CHARLOTTE — Auto House had two locations, one in Mooresville and one in Salisbury.
In 2016, customers started complaining to Action 9's Jason Stoogenke.
They suspected their cars were more basic models and that someone had put different emblems on the back to make them look like higher trims.
Stoogenke investigated and confirmed Auto House was selling mislabeled vehicles. Some customers paid thousands of dollars more than their vehicles' actual Blue Book value.
The North Carolina DMV launched its own investigation. Action 9 was there as armed DMV agents searched Auto House and walked out with boxes and computers.
Roy Cooper, who was the North Carolina attorney general at the time, started investigating as well and eventually sued Auto House’s owners, Samuel Ketner and Nathaniel Brown. When Cooper became governor of North Carolina, the next attorney general, Josh Stein, continued to pursue the case.
The attorney general's lawsuit focused on the emblems on the back of the cars. It also accused Auto House of giving customers wrong information about vehicle damage and lying on credit applications to get them financing.
Those were two allegations that came up during Stoogenke's investigation as well.
In December 2016, both locations closed.
A few weeks later, the DMV permanently banned Ketner and Brown from selling vehicles in the state. The DMV even mentioned Channel 9 in its legal papers. It said that after the initial news report, Auto House reached out to 35 customers, offering them refunds or trade-ins.
On Wednesday, a judge ruled in the attorney general's case and ordered Ketner and Brown to pay $160,000 in restitution to customers and fees to the state.
“It sends a message across the state that merchants need to be fair with their customers, that you can’t be deceptive in trying to lure them in with things that are not true, and I think that this was an important victory,” Cooper told Stoogenke. "And thank you and you’re reporting of this. I think it’s all-important coming together. That’s a real win for consumers in our state.”
“This is about persistence,” Stein told Stoogenke. “Sometimes, we’re able to get resolution in a week or two. Sometimes, it takes three or four years. We wish it could all be done quicker, but no matter how long it takes, we’re going to get the job done.”
Action 9 emailed Ketner’s and Brown’s lawyer Wednesday afternoon, and he hadn’t responded by news time.
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