Kentucky Used Car Dealer Scams $4.3M From Toyota, Gets 6 Years in Prison

It's like a warmer weather version of Fargo, but without the woodchipper.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
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Toyota got scammed out of $4.3 million by a dealer taking advantage of its rusty truck buyback program.


If you haven't seen the excellent 1996 movie Fargo, it starts with a dealership sales manager (played by the incomparable William H. Macy) scamming the captive finance company of his dealership's marque. I won't spoil the film, but needless to say, things don't go great for him. It would seem that James Pinson, a dealership owner from Kentucky, didn't quite get the moral of that movie, because he was sentenced last week to six years in prison for scamming Toyota out of $4.3 million, the Department of Justice announced. Automotive News reported on the case Wednesday.

Pinson defrauded Toyota by taking advantage of a program for customers to buy back overly rusty trucks for 150% of the listed Kelley Blue Book value. It seems like a good deal for customers, all things considered, but the program specifically excluded dealers from participating.

To work his con, Pinson bought 350 trucks at dealer wholesale auctions for (I'm guessing) pennies on the dollar, since who wants a super rusty truck? He would then obtain random people's driver's licenses and title the trucks in their name. From there, he went to a Toyota dealer in West Virginia where he had bribed a service manager named Frank Russo and another dealership employee, Stanley Clark, to process the paperwork for the buybacks.

Overall, it's not the dumbest scheme I've ever heard, but -- and I'm no expert on doing crimes here -- maybe they shouldn't have tried to process 350 trucks through just one dealership? Now Pinson and Russo have to pay $4.3 million in restitution, and Pinson was forced to give up a beach house in South Carolina that was purchased with the ill-gotten gains. This is on top of six years in prison for Pinson, two years for Russo and 15 months for Clark.

Just think, all of this could have been avoided entirely if they had installed that TruCoat on those trucks at the factory.

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