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Illegal car sales alleged

April 24, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania State Police Monday charged a former used car dealer with illegally selling cars worth almost half a million dollars and then setting fire to his business earlier this year.

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Elwood Ulice "Woody" Keefer, 74, who owned J.W. Auto Sales Inc., at 1784 Lincoln Way East, was charged with 45 counts each of theft by unlawful taking and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, as well as 43 counts of failure to remit sales taxes and proper forms, according to criminal complaints filed with District Justice Larry Meminger.

Keefer, of 1550 Walker Road, was also charged with four counts of arson and one count each of recklessly endangering another person, criminal mischief and insurance fraud, according to police. Those charges stem from a Jan. 30 fire in a garage behind the dealership, police said.

"The fire ... it was an accident," Keefer said Monday when reached by phone. "The state police assume it was set intentionally and that's not a true statement." He declined to address the other charges.

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Between Jan. 4, 1999, and March 1 of this year, police allege the now closed dealership sold 43 cars worth $449,900 to 42 people and failed to pay $19,246.50 in state sales taxes.

Automotive Finance Corp. of Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Auction Finance Group of Miami were listed as victims in the complaints. J.W. Auto Sales owed the companies more than $128,000, police alleged.

Police said J.W. Auto Sales purchased vehicles from an auto auction in York, Pa., using money from the finance companies. When people bought the cars, however, police allege the money was not turned over to the finance companies, which held the titles on the cars and trucks.

The fees and taxes paid by the buyers were not turned over to the state, the complaints alleged.

Keefer's preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 18.

James W. Albright of Fayetteville, Pa., who is a former state trooper, alleged that he bought a 1989 Chevy that he cannot legally drive because he does not have the title.

Roy Bowers of Fayetteville said he bought a 1998 Toyota from Keefer in October. With interest, the loan balance comes to $18,000.

"I had the car financed, and as far as I know the bank still has not received the title," Bowers said.

Bowers alleged he never received a vehicle registration from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. When his temporary registration ran out in December, he was issued another one, he said.

After that expired, he learned about the investigation. Because the car was not legally registered, "I didn't want to take a chance on it, so I just went ahead and parked it," he said.

Bowers said he didn't want to make monthly payments on a car he may not own, so he turned the vehicle over to the bank. "My wife and I both work and we only have one vehicle," he said. "It really puts us into ... a bind."

Denise Miller, of Chambersburg, said she paid $7,900 for a vehicle in October but has to keep getting temporary registrations to legally keep it on the road.

"I'm paying money every month for something I may never own," Miller said.

Criminal complaints in the felony and misdemeanor arson charges allege the Jan. 30 fire was intentionally set to collect insurance, posed a risk to the lives of firefighters and that no "reasonable measures" were taken to put out the fire or notify firefighters.

Keefer was charged with felony criminal mischief because $70,000 in damage was done to the garage, which he did not own. The reckless endangerment charge stems from the risk posed to firefighters. The criminal complaint for the insurance fraud charge alleges he filed a claim with an insurance company after the fire, police said.

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