Thursday, May 17
BRATTLEBORO -- When
Jay Tedesco and Brian Goodridge bought used trucks from a
Brattleboro dealer earlier this year, they became the proud
new owners of a pair of stolen vehicles.
Tedesco and Goodridge were just the latest victims of a
scheme called "car cloning" -- in which criminals replace a
stolen automobile's vehicle identification number with a
legitimate VIN from a similar vehicle.
Because the forged VIN does not mark the vehicle as stolen,
thieves can then re-sell them to legitimate buyers.
Tedesco and Goodridge both purchased their vehicles from
Mark's Motors on Putney Road. When they registered the trucks
in their home states -- Tedesco is from New York and Goodridge
is from New Hampshire -- authorities contacted them, informed
them the trucks were stolen, and seized them.
"I'd never heard of cloning before except for sheep,"
Goodridge said. "I just basically lost my shirt."
Mark Lanoue, who owns Mark's Motors, says he sympathizes
with Tedesco and Goodridge but does not feel responsible for
their loss. He bought the trucks from two separate Vermont
dealerships which, in turn, bought the cars from yet another
Lanoue believes that the state of Vermont is ultimately at
fault because its Department of Motor Vehicles granted the
cars legitimate titles.
"I'm a victim of the state of Vermont processing stolen
vehicles," he said. "We are all victims here, right down the
The situation is currently under investigation by several
law enforcement agencies, and it remains far from clear who
will ultimately pay the bill. The trucks initially came
through Canada and went through at least five dealerships and
individuals before they reached Tedesco and Goodridge.
"It's not rare to see people duped by clones at every step
in the process," said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the
National Insurance Crime Bureau, which investigates insurance
fraud and stolen vehicles. "Everybody has a legitimate gripe
about how this occurred, but where does the buck stop?"
According to Scafidi, the NICB has been tracking clones
since 2001 and has identified 1,432 stolen cars with false
VINs. Because clones are so difficult to detect, he believes
that number represents just a small fraction of the cloned
cars circulating in the marketplace.
"Seldom do you have a criminal act that is lucrative in its
early stages that is the monopoly of the few," he said.
Tedesco still owes $23,000 for the 2003 Hummer H2 he no
longer owns. He said he cannot afford another vehicle, nor can
he afford a lawyer to sue Lanoue, who he believes is
"He's the dealership. He should know the vehicles he's
buying, and he should do research on the vehicles he's
buying," Tedesco said.
Goodridge says he is down $30,000 for the 2005 Ford F250
that was seized from him. He also lost $3,400 in improvements
to the vehicle. Though he says he is friends with Lanoue, he
has no other option but to sue the dealer.
"I'm in the process of suing Mark. He's my friend, but what
am I going to do? Lie down for this? I'm still making payments
on a truck I don't own, and I didn't do anything wrong,"
Goodridge said. "Everyone else is just going to sue up the
In addition to blaming the Vermont DMV, Lanoue holds Hayes
Ford of Newport responsible -- at least in part --and believes
that dealership should cut a check, so that the money can work
its way down to Tedesco and Goodridge.
Hayes Ford took both trucks on trade from Mark LeMay of
Troy. The dealership then passed the Ford to St. J Auto of St.
Johnsbury, and the Hummer to Lowery's Auto Sales of South
Barre. Those dealers, in turn, sold the trucks to Lanoue.
Ron Canton, general manager of Hayes Ford, said he did
everything in his power to ensure that the trucks were
legitimate. Both trucks came with valid Vermont titles, he
said, and came up clean when he ran Carfax searches on them.
"If I can't trust the state of Vermont to produce a title
on a vehicle without it being cloned and stolen, who can I
trust? Every dealer in the state needs to be told that the
state of Vermont cannot be trusted," he said.
Like Lanoue, Canton said he understands the plight of the
consumers who eventually wound up with the trucks, but does
not feel that reimbursing them or the other dealerships is
"I feel bad for them. I wish there was something I could
do. But I think writing a check is an admission of guilt, and
nobody did anything wrong except the state of Vermont issuing
titles on those vehicles," he said.
Mike Ruse, a DMV detective who is investigating the case,
said that Canton and the other dealers may have a point.
"They're right. The cars had a legitimate title. But it's
garbage in, garbage out," he said.
Ruse said that because the DMV relies on information
provided by the dealerships when granting titles, the
department has to trust that applicants are providing accurate
information. The DMV lacks the manpower to inspect every car
licensed in the state.
"The way I would feel is that car dealers are car experts.
We're going by information they supply to us. They have the
car in front of them," he said.
Lt. Mary McIntyre, who runs the DMV's investigations unit
for southern Vermont, also believes it is the dealers'
"When you go to have your hair cut and dyed by a
beautician, you expect that beautician is familiar with the
product they are using. Therefore, customers buying a car
would have a particular expectation that a car dealer knows
the vehicle they're selling," she said.
In addition to the "public VIN," which is usually displayed
on the dashboard, most vehicles have VINs hidden in several
other places. When thieves clone cars, they often change only
the public VIN and those that are easily accessible. If a
dealer checked the hidden VINs and found that one or more was
different from the public VIN, it would be an immediate
"They're the ones holding onto the product," McIntyre said
of the dealers. "They've got all the clues. They've got all
the evidence. The DMV has nothing. They're holding
Ruse said he cannot comment on the investigation while it
is ongoing, but he said the trail has brought him north of the
LeMay, who sold both trucks to Hayes Ford, bought them in
Canada at different times from different sources. He said the
Hummer came from an outfit called Red Line Trucks, and the
Ford came from a man named Mike Boulet.
"They didn't seem suspicious at all. They're not guys that
I knew," he said.
LeMay said he does not know the location or telephone
numbers of either Boulet or Red Line. He said he ran Carfax
checks on both vehicles and had the Vermont DMV verify their
Vermont Assistant Attorney General David Borskywsky said
his department has not received an abundance of complaints
about cloned cars, but that problems do exist. One way to cut
down on cloning would be to link each state DMV and share VIN
information, he said. That way, multiple cars could not be
titled and registered with the same VIN.
The best way to cut down on this sort of crime, however, is
to be careful when purchasing used cars, he said.
"One warning to every consumer is to do a thorough check,
whether it be a Carfax or another service that checks VINs,"
Paul Heintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
802-254-2311, ext. 275.