ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It should have been an easy deal.
An Albuquerque family that was looking to buy a second car found what they were looking for at a local dealership. But after forking over a cash payment, the family says it's been taken for nearly $10,000 and the car they thought they were buying.
KRQE News 13 has also learned the now out-of-business dealership is accused of owing at least nine customers more than $82,000 from business deals gone wrong.
The small Albuquerque dealership at the center of the accusations was doing business in a lot near East Central Avenue and Eubank Boulevard. Today, several other unaffiliated companies still do business on the same lot, but no one seems to know what happened to CarTime Auto Sales. Several people at the lot who recently spoke to KRQE News 13 suggested that the now-shuttered business is no longer around and may have recently run into business issues.
On the other hand, Kevin Briseño and Stephanie Montoya describe their experience with the dealership as a nightmare that's cost them a lot of money.
"It's been the worst experience we've ever had to deal with," said Montoya. "We're out of almost $10,000."
Parents of an eight-month-old daughter, Montoya and Briseño say they were looking for a second car to help transport their daughter and her older brother, and to help get the couple to their respective jobs and schooling. In January, they found CarTime's lot along Bell Avenue NE. Though they'd never been to the dealership before, the couple says there were no red flags.
"It looked like a decent vehicle, a decent place to buy a vehicle… it was clean, there was car salesman, there was a lot of vehicles," said Montoya.
Montoya and Briseño found a blue 2007 GMC Acadia SUV that CarTime was selling for about $9,500.
"It was a beautiful car in good condition, we thought the SUV would be perfect for her and her older brother," said Montoya.
Having built a cash saving, Montoya and Briseño paid for most of the cost of car on January 7, 2017. A receipt provided by the couple shows they gave CarTime an $8,700 payment that day. The couple says they drove the SUV off the lot with a temporary tag that day.
"We were short $800, and (the dealership) gave us to (February) first (to pay the rest)" said Briseño. "They said whenever I initially got (the SUV,) that they would have the title and registration (by the date the final payment was made.)
"They told us our title would be in within 30 days after giving them the cash," said Montoya.
Briseño says Montoya made the final payment to CarTime on January 28, 2017, approximately 21 days after the first payment. A receipt provided by the couple shows a payment card was charged $800. Briseño says when Montoya made the final payment, she was given a different answer about obtaining the vehicle's title and registration.
"She went and paid it, and (the dealership) told her it was... everything was in the process," said Briseño.
The couple was told the title would be there in February. Approximately two weeks after their final payment, in mid-February, the couple was told the title had been "lost" and the dealership would have to file for a new one.
"We've just got excuse after excuse," said Montoya.
By March, Montoya says she had been given at least four different explanations about what was happening with the title: the paperwork was in process; the title was lost; their bookkeeper had been arrested for embezzlement; and that the dealership's owner had on-going health issues.
"We get another one saying the owner had gall bladder issues and he was in the hospital," said Montoya.
By Montoya's estimate, roughly 90 days after buying the car and towards the end of March, the couple wanted a refund. Briseño thought his best leverage would be to leave the SUV with the dealership and demand a refund.
"Dropped it off, gave one of the owners the keys, and said, ‘hey … I'll be back on Friday, hopefully, you guys have money,'" said Briseño.
By the time he went back for the car three days later, Briseño said it was gone. There was also no refund waiting for him either.
"At this point, we're out of our money, we're out of a vehicle," said Montoya.
While it's unclear what happened to the SUV, Briseño believes it was likely repossessed by another company, based on a conversation he says he had with a person he met at the car lot.
The couple says it has since filed complaints with the Consumer Protection Division of the New Mexico Attorney General's Office and the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division (MVD.)
As it turns out, MVD says Montoya and Briseño are not the only people CarTime is accused of causing problems for.
"Unfortunately, it looks like there's been some misunderstandings with some of their customers and they've ended up not granting titles or vehicles to a few people in this instance," said Ben Cloutier, spokesman for New Mexico's Tax and Revenue Department, which oversees MVD.
So far, MVD says the nine customers have filed claims against CarTime, totaling more than $82,000.
Cloutier says state records show the dealership's sales license expired on March 31, 2017. Cloutier says CarTime's listed owned, Joel D. Houck has been in contact with MVD's Dealer Licensing Bureau and informed him that the business would not renew their sales license.
KRQE News 13 asked MVD if Houck ever explained the reason why problems have arisen, and customers have made complaints against CarTime.
"He hasn't, he let us know that he was closing down his business about the same time we started getting some complaints," said Cloutier.
KRQE News 13 recently visited the lot CarTime conducted car sales on to see if anyone from the now shuttered business could answer for the accusations. We only met people claiming CarTime had folded up shop.
"They're going through some issues... we don't really know, we're not really part of it," said a man who went by the name Lamar.
Lamar referred KRQE News 13 to another man on the lot, said to the be the property's landlord.
"Did they ever indicate any problems to you?" asked KRQE News 13 Reporter Chris McKee.
"No, none of the dealers do... none of the dealers do, that's not me, they don't communicate to me," said the landlord.
The landlord referred KRQE News 13 to a man named George, who told KRQE News 13 that he'd done sales for CarTime in the past, or "a long time ago."
"They may be having some problems," said George. "The guy that you need to talk to is Joel Houck."
KRQE News 13 never found Joel Houck. CarTime's listed phone number went to the voicemail of a man who identified himself as "Gerry." Through text message, "Gerry" told KRQE News 13 that he "worked for CarTime on their website and in sales for a very short time." The man also claimed through text message, "they went out of business without paying me."
MVD says it has now put Briseño and Montoya and other customers in touch with the shuttered dealership's bonding agency. That agency has a $35,000 bond that could reimburse customers who've been left hanging.
But Briseño and Montoya know there are no guarantees.
"I honestly don't think so," said Briseño, responding to the question of if he thought he'd get his money back.
For now, Briseño and Montoya are out about $9,500 – a lot of money of their small family.
"It doesn't come that easy for us," said Montoya.
If you have a complaint to report about CarTime or any other licensed dealership in New Mexico, contact the Dealer Licensing Bureau through MVD's main phone line: 888-683-4636. There are also links to dealership complaint forms and other forms posted on MVD's website.