Greater Cincinnati residents sued for old car debt; Discrepancies found in lawsuits

A growing number of greater Cincinnati residents are finding out they have car troubles in the courts. Local residents are being sued for cars many of them no longer own. The debtors are being told they owe thousands of dollars, and some are even having their wages garnished. The Hamilton County Clerk of Courts first brought this issue to WLWT’s attention. Investigative reporter Jatara McGee spent weeks working to get answers. The problems stem from the last 10 years or so, and the fallout is far from over. Sade Herron, a Cincinnati mom of three, explained how her car troubles began around March 2015. She was pregnant at the time and needed a car to get to work. She went to a used car dealership and took out a $7,976 loan from the dealership to purchase a used 2004 Pontiac Grand Am.”It was one thing after another with that car. Every other day it was something,” she said. Within a matter of weeks, Herron said the car was overheating and even broke down on the interstate. “It was very traumatic for me,” Herron said.According to Herron, she complained to the dealer until it took the car back. “My understanding with this company is that this is over,” Herron said.She learned seven years later it was not. This spring, Herron’s boss notified her of a wage garnishment notification for $10,100.47 from “ADLP Investments.”ADLP Investments acquired Herron’s car contract with Alford Motors and was suing her to pay off the debt. Herron said she was never notified of the lawsuit so she did not appear in court. Since she did not appear, the judge approved a garnishment for the value of the contract plus interest and court costs. “Well over the amount the car was worth,” Herron explained.Attorneys at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati pointed out several problems with ADLP’s lawsuit against Herron and got the lawsuit dismissed.Herron’s story is not isolated.Legal Aid found hundreds of lawsuits filed between 2019 and 2022, stemming from old vehicle debt for cars allegedly purchased from one Cincinnati dealership, Alford Motors. It is a “buy here, pay here” dealership that advertises “Job + Down Payment = Car.”A few years ago, the dealership sold some of its old accounts to two companies, ADLP Investments and DBC Holdings, who went on to sue many of the debtors to collect outstanding balances. Rob Wall is the director of the Hamilton County Municipal Help Center, a partnership between the University of Cincinnati College of Law and the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts. “We see ourselves as an urgent care or emergency room of the civil justice system,” Wall said.This summer, the waiting room was full of people complaining about the same issue. “A number of these people, they had already lost the case without even knowing that they had been sued,” Wall said. “When you start to see people with the same story over and over again, that’s when it really solidifies in your mind. There may be a real issue here.”The help center started referring people to Legal Aid Senior Attorney Matthew Fitzsimmons. “I’ve seen a lot of smoke, if you will,” Fitzsimmons said. He said Legal Aid has already helped more than 25 people sued by ADLP Investments, LLC and DBC Holdings, for debt purchased from Alford Motors. “When we point out these problems to the other, the plaintiff’s attorney, they’ve agreed to walk away from it,” Fitzsimmons said.”On all 25?” McGee asked.”On all 25,” Fitzsimmons answered.”For everyone that we’ve helped, dozens more have certainly been sued, been garnished, may not know that they truly don’t owe this money,” Fitzsimmons said. Legal Aid filed a 160-page complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s office in May. It analyzed 116 lawsuits brought by ADLP Investments or DBC Holdings for car contracts bought from Alford Motors. The complaint found many of the lawsuits had similar recurring, critical errors like where a debtor’s balance was not credited after the car was repossessed and then resold or where account records had suspicious entries for payments debtors said they never made. Because of the discrepancies in the car accounts and in the lawsuits, Legal Aid believes ADLP, DBC and Alford Motors may have violated Ohio consumer protection laws. Sharlene Graham is a former trial attorney and currently a tenured professor of 31 years at the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. Graham reviewed the cases as an independent expert.”There is a lot in these cases to be gravely concerned about,” she said. “There are some glaring irregularities between some of the documents that I observed in the contracts and let’s say, affidavits that were signed by the debtors.”WLWT found multiple lawsuits with two different sales contracts. Legal Aid’s complaint includes an affidavit from a Springfield Township woman who was sued twice in 2021, once by ADLP Investments for $6,462.01 and once by DBC Holdings for $12,195.19. Both lawsuits were attempting to collect on the same vehicle, a used Ford Explorer that the plaintiffs said the woman bought from Alford Motors in April 2014.Attached to each lawsuit were two different sales contracts signed by different car salesmen and with different signatures for the buyer. In a signed affidavit, the defendant wrote she “never purchased a car from Alford Motors, and I have never owned a Ford Explorer.” Both lawsuits got dismissed. Other people who fought their cases said they never signed the sales contracts filed with the court. WLWT and Graham examined signatures from affidavits and the debtor’s signature on their sales contract.”There is no way those two signatures are exactly the same,” Graham said.At least one of the names was even misspelled. Legal Aid’s complaint also alleges some lawsuits noted nominal payments, after a vehicle was returned or repossessed, that the consumers say they never made.For example, a former owner of a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta said in a signed affidavit that he returned the car and stopped making payments in February 2015. The payment ledger shows a $100 payment on the ledger two years later in 2017.”Those payments also kind of coincidentally extended what’s called the statute of limitations, which is the amount of time a person has to sue,” Wall said. A ledger for a 2004 Chevy Malibu lists payments for $25, $20, $20, $30 and $70 made between 2015 to 2017. The receipt numbers for those five payments are consecutive: 803, 804, 805, 806 and 807.The former owner of the Chevy Malibu wrote in a signed affidavit “I did not make these payments. The last payment I made on the car was in November 2014.””Highly suspicious,” Graham said. According to its complaint, Legal Aid reviewed 116 lawsuits and found 34 of them did not have a payment ledger and 49 had “suspicious ledger activity.”The complaint also alleges “Alford Motors resold cars without crediting debtor accounts in more than half” of the accounts it examined. Under Ohio law, if a car is repossessed and then resold, the debtor’s balance must be credited with the value of the resale. “Because of what I have seen, I would reevaluate all of it,” Graham said. Alford Motors has changed ownership over the years. All of the underlying car contracts in question are from prior ownership. The dealership sold the car contracts in bundles, starting around 2019, to the two companies who later filed the lawsuits. Alford Motors is not a plaintiff in any of the lawsuits.McGee sat down with Rob Stein, the dealership president, in October. Stein said the dealership was aware of problems with almost 800 accounts, 799 to be exact. He also said lawsuits tied to those accounts had been dismissed by the companies who brought the lawsuits. McGee pointed out several issues Stein was not aware of. Then Alford Motors’ owners decided to audit all accounts sold off since 2019.”More and more people are going to be underwater. I don’t see this going away,” Fitzsimmons said. Through an attorney, the owners said they would sit down with WLWT after they understand the full scope of the problem.WLWT also contacted ADLP Investments and DBC Holdings for comment. We have not received a response from either company. While it is clear the issue is impacting dozens of local residents, it is not yet known exactly who is responsible for the account irregularities and bad lawsuits. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office confirmed to WLWT it received Legal Aid’s complaint but said it can “neither confirm nor deny the existence of or potential for any investigation.”The Hamilton County Municipal Help Center is open to the public 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. on weekdays. You can reach them at 513-946-5650 or in person by visiting the Hamilton County Courthouse Room 113.Legal Aid offers free, comprehensive civil legal assistance to qualifying low-income individuals and families. They can be reached at 513-241-9400.

A growing number of greater Cincinnati residents are finding out they have car troubles in the courts. Local residents are being sued for cars many of them no longer own.

The debtors are being told they owe thousands of dollars, and some are even having their wages garnished. The Hamilton County Clerk of Courts first brought this issue to WLWT’s attention. Investigative reporter Jatara McGee spent weeks working to get answers.

The problems stem from the last 10 years or so, and the fallout is far from over.

Sade Herron, a Cincinnati mom of three, explained how her car troubles began around March 2015. She was pregnant at the time and needed a car to get to work. She went to a used car dealership and took out a $7,976 loan from the dealership to purchase a used 2004 Pontiac Grand Am.

“It was one thing after another with that car. Every other day it was something,” she said.

Within a matter of weeks, Herron said the car was overheating and even broke down on the interstate.

“It was very traumatic for me,” Herron said.

According to Herron, she complained to the dealer until it took the car back.

“My understanding with this company is that this is over,” Herron said.

She learned seven years later it was not.

This spring, Herron’s boss notified her of a wage garnishment notification for $10,100.47 from “ADLP Investments.”

ADLP Investments acquired Herron’s car contract with Alford Motors and was suing her to pay off the debt. Herron said she was never notified of the lawsuit so she did not appear in court. Since she did not appear, the judge approved a garnishment for the value of the contract plus interest and court costs.

“Well over the amount the car was worth,” Herron explained.

Attorneys at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati pointed out several problems with ADLP’s lawsuit against Herron and got the lawsuit dismissed.

Herron’s story is not isolated.

Legal Aid found hundreds of lawsuits filed between 2019 and 2022, stemming from old vehicle debt for cars allegedly purchased from one Cincinnati dealership, Alford Motors. It is a “buy here, pay here” dealership that advertises “Job + Down Payment = Car.”

A few years ago, the dealership sold some of its old accounts to two companies, ADLP Investments and DBC Holdings, who went on to sue many of the debtors to collect outstanding balances.

Rob Wall is the director of the Hamilton County Municipal Help Center, a partnership between the University of Cincinnati College of Law and the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts.

“We see ourselves as an urgent care or emergency room of the civil justice system,” Wall said.

This summer, the waiting room was full of people complaining about the same issue.

“A number of these people, they had already lost the case without even knowing that they had been sued,” Wall said. “When you start to see people with the same story over and over again, that’s when it really solidifies in your mind. There may be a real issue here.”

The help center started referring people to Legal Aid Senior Attorney Matthew Fitzsimmons.

“I’ve seen a lot of smoke, if you will,” Fitzsimmons said.

He said Legal Aid has already helped more than 25 people sued by ADLP Investments, LLC and DBC Holdings, for debt purchased from Alford Motors.

“When we point out these problems to the other, the plaintiff’s attorney, they’ve agreed to walk away from it,” Fitzsimmons said.

“On all 25?” McGee asked.

“On all 25,” Fitzsimmons answered.

“For everyone that we’ve helped, dozens more have certainly been sued, been garnished, may not know that they truly don’t owe this money,” Fitzsimmons said.

Legal Aid filed a 160-page complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s office in May. It analyzed 116 lawsuits brought by ADLP Investments or DBC Holdings for car contracts bought from Alford Motors. The complaint found many of the lawsuits had similar recurring, critical errors like where a debtor’s balance was not credited after the car was repossessed and then resold or where account records had suspicious entries for payments debtors said they never made. Because of the discrepancies in the car accounts and in the lawsuits, Legal Aid believes ADLP, DBC and Alford Motors may have violated Ohio consumer protection laws.

Sharlene Graham is a former trial attorney and currently a tenured professor of 31 years at the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. Graham reviewed the cases as an independent expert.

“There is a lot in these cases to be gravely concerned about,” she said. “There are some glaring irregularities between some of the documents that I observed in the contracts and let’s say, affidavits that were signed by the debtors.”

WLWT found multiple lawsuits with two different sales contracts.

Legal Aid’s complaint includes an affidavit from a Springfield Township woman who was sued twice in 2021, once by ADLP Investments for $6,462.01 and once by DBC Holdings for $12,195.19. Both lawsuits were attempting to collect on the same vehicle, a used Ford Explorer that the plaintiffs said the woman bought from Alford Motors in April 2014.

Attached to each lawsuit were two different sales contracts signed by different car salesmen and with different signatures for the buyer. In a signed affidavit, the defendant wrote she “never purchased a car from Alford Motors, and I have never owned a Ford Explorer.”

Both lawsuits got dismissed.

Other people who fought their cases said they never signed the sales contracts filed with the court.

WLWT and Graham examined signatures from affidavits and the debtor’s signature on their sales contract.

“There is no way those two signatures are exactly the same,” Graham said.

At least one of the names was even misspelled.

Legal Aid’s complaint also alleges some lawsuits noted nominal payments, after a vehicle was returned or repossessed, that the consumers say they never made.

For example, a former owner of a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta said in a signed affidavit that he returned the car and stopped making payments in February 2015. The payment ledger shows a $100 payment on the ledger two years later in 2017.

“Those payments also kind of coincidentally extended what’s called the statute of limitations, which is the amount of time a person has to sue,” Wall said.

A ledger for a 2004 Chevy Malibu lists payments for $25, $20, $20, $30 and $70 made between 2015 to 2017. The receipt numbers for those five payments are consecutive: 803, 804, 805, 806 and 807.

The former owner of the Chevy Malibu wrote in a signed affidavit “I did not make these payments. The last payment I made on the car was in November 2014.”

“Highly suspicious,” Graham said.

According to its complaint, Legal Aid reviewed 116 lawsuits and found 34 of them did not have a payment ledger and 49 had “suspicious ledger activity.”

The complaint also alleges “Alford Motors resold cars without crediting debtor accounts in more than half” of the accounts it examined. Under Ohio law, if a car is repossessed and then resold, the debtor’s balance must be credited with the value of the resale.

“Because of what I have seen, I would reevaluate all of it,” Graham said.

Alford Motors has changed ownership over the years. All of the underlying car contracts in question are from prior ownership. The dealership sold the car contracts in bundles, starting around 2019, to the two companies who later filed the lawsuits. Alford Motors is not a plaintiff in any of the lawsuits.

McGee sat down with Rob Stein, the dealership president, in October. Stein said the dealership was aware of problems with almost 800 accounts, 799 to be exact. He also said lawsuits tied to those accounts had been dismissed by the companies who brought the lawsuits.

McGee pointed out several issues Stein was not aware of. Then Alford Motors’ owners decided to audit all accounts sold off since 2019.

“More and more people are going to be underwater. I don’t see this going away,” Fitzsimmons said.

Through an attorney, the owners said they would sit down with WLWT after they understand the full scope of the problem.

WLWT also contacted ADLP Investments and DBC Holdings for comment. We have not received a response from either company.

While it is clear the issue is impacting dozens of local residents, it is not yet known exactly who is responsible for the account irregularities and bad lawsuits.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office confirmed to WLWT it received Legal Aid’s complaint but said it can “neither confirm nor deny the existence of or potential for any investigation.”

The Hamilton County Municipal Help Center is open to the public 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. on weekdays. You can reach them at 513-946-5650 or in person by visiting the Hamilton County Courthouse Room 113.

Legal Aid offers free, comprehensive civil legal assistance to qualifying low-income individuals and families. They can be reached at 513-241-9400.