This sort of thing happens way too often in Oregon.
Oregon state government has a serious problem when it comes to documenting stolen cars. We’ve seen cases of stolen vehicles sold through dealerships to unsuspecting customers, among other shocking things. Then we ran across the absolutely outrageous story in The Oregonian of how a woman’s 1971 Chevy Nova SS that was stolen 13 years ago was kept from her through a series of government laziness and incompetence. As car enthusiasts it’s enough to make our blood boil.
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The whole ordeal for Cristin Elliot started back in September 2010 when she parked her beloved Nova outside a friend’s house and a lovely individual decided to liberate her property. She looked high and low for the vehicle, even combing online sales ads, but all to no avail. Every time she heard an engine fire up that sounded like her beloved Chevy, she perked up. This went on for years.
However, Elliot’s persistence paid off on July 19, 2019 when Elliot found her ride listed for sale on Craigslist. While she could pick out details which were unique to the car, the big tipoff was absolutely unbelievable: nobody had removed the license plate.
She told The Oregonian that her first inclination was to take the Nova for a test drive at the dealership where it was listed and just never return. After all, it was rightfully her property, so if they called the cops she would be in the right, or so she thought. A friend talked her out of that plan, which sadly was probably for the best, convincing her to call the police and do things that way.
Considering it took another four years and a legal battle to get her rightful property back, one would be hard-pressed to call it the right way entirely. That avenue should be the correct way of handling just such a situation, but the garbage Elliot dealt with after contacting the police really has to make you think hard about that conclusion.
Before Elliot found her car, the dealer had purchased it from a mechanic in Portland who had a story about why there was no title. When the dealer insisted the car come with a legitimate title, the seller accompanied him to the Oregon DMV, putting a mechanic’s lien on the Nova while claiming his shop had done work the owner didn’t pay for. And so the seller was able to get a legitimate title on a vehicle that was reported stolen.
You might be wondering how that could be. As mentioned before, this is a constant problem with Oregon’s DMV and has resulted in many people buying a stolen car through legitimate channels, to only later realize they were bamboozled. As The Oregonian report points out, the Nova was no longer in the state or federal law enforcement databases as stolen as of 2015 since both don’t hold onto those records past four years. It’s a ridiculous policy that thieves easily exploit all the time. In other states, stolen car records are maintained indefinitely.
What’s more, the police department that took the stolen vehicle report for the Nova should have resubmitted it to the state after four years if it hadn’t been recovered. That obviously didn’t happen, so the incompetence was piling up.
Even better, The Oregonian found the mechanic’s lien paperwork filed by the original seller wasn’t even in order. Yet the DMV granted the lien and issued the guy a fresh title.
The dealer claims he didn’t see most of the paperwork filled out by the mechanic, so he had no idea things were a little shady. Whether you believe him or not is up to you, but that’s his story. He was also upset the Nova received a branded title and wanted to sell the vehicle back, but the mechanic stopped responding to messages. Funny thing was the guy knew where the mechanic’s shop was, so he could have talked to him in person but for some reason didn’t.
All the government incompetence created an uphill legal battle for Elliot. As she fought to get her Nova, which was impounded, back the mechanic who originally sold it was hit for with first-degree theft, possession of a stolen vehicle, unauthorized use of a vehicle and trafficking in stolen vehicles. However, the case was dismissed since no public defense attorney was available to represent the mechanic. So he got off on a technicality, and with the statute of limitations exceeded couldn’t be tried later, adding to the gross amount of government incompetence in the case.
Everything boiled down to a court battle between Elliot and the car dealer who had been allegedly duped by the mechanic. Covid restrictions delayed the case going before a judge, but Elliot was finally victorious. For thirteen long years she was kept from her 1971 Chevy Nova SS, largely due to a series of lazy incompetence and perhaps even some corruption at different levels of Oregon’s government. While she’s happy to finally have her baby back, we’re left wondering when changes will be made to the laws in Oregon and why the DMV isn’t getting raked over the coals over this and so many other cases like it. The state is making it far too easy for criminals to get away with stealing cars and profiting off their crimes.
Images via Wikimedia Commons