KEYSER - The Kanawha County Circuit Court has ordered that the revocation of Fernando Smith's sales license be reversed due to lack of evidence in his case.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - The Kanawha County Circuit Court has ordered that the revocation of Fernando Smith’s sales license be reversed due to lack of evidence in his case.
Smith, formerly doing business as Pristine Pre-Owned Autos along with Jamie Crabtree, had his license revoked by the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles in November 2015 following an investigation into an alleged irregularity with a title to a vehicle sold by Pristine.
According to court documents, Smith and Crabtree sold a 2005 Ford Freestyle to a couple in October 2011 and the DMV issued a West Virginia title to the couple, with a lien assigned to Pristine.
The couple were involved in a collision with the vehicle in November 2013, however, and the insurance company declared the Ford a total loss.
The couple arranged to retain ownership of the vehicle, and brought it to Pristine for repairs.
According to records from Kanawha County, “in the case of a total loss, the lien holder is required, upon payment, to present the title to the insurance company, who then brands the title as salvage.”
Pristine received a check from the insurance company and cashed it.
In the meantime, the owner of the vehicle decided that she wanted to use the wrecked vehicle for a trade-in on a Jeep at Pristine. She cashed her portion of the insurance settlement and used it to purchase the Jeep.
Crabtree, however, said she mistakenly filed the title to the Ford in the repossession file. Pristine kept the Freestyle and had the purchaser sign the title back over to the dealership.
The title was never returned to the insurance company for salvage.
In May 2014, Pristine sold the vehicle to another couple “without the salvage brand on the title but with a notice of its being salvaged in normal type on the bill of sale and service history,” according to the court records.
In August of that year, the insurance company filed a complaint with the DMV against Pristine, citing their failure to surrender a certificate of title, and the DMV launched an investigation.
In the meantime, an investigation had been launched by local law enforcement, and officers from several area agencies raided the Pristine property on Mineral Street in Keyser on Oct. 23, 2014.
Smith and Crabtree were subsequently indicted by a Mineral County Grand Jury on 29 counts each of false pretenses and conspiracy, with Smith being later charged with additional counts of being an accessory before the fact in regard to false pretenses.
Smith and Crabtree filed a complaint in Mineral County Circuit Court, saying the search and seizure of property was illegally executed, and both Circuit Court and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the legality of the warrants.
In September 2014, the DMV investigator ruled that Pristine had failed to release the title as required and informed the dealership of the actions necessary to correct the situation.
A hearing was held by the DMV in April 2015, and both Smith’s and Crabtree’s licenses were revoked in November of that year.
Both appealed the ruling, but the revocation was upheld by the DMV in March 2016.
Smith then appealed to the Kanawha County Circuit Court.
According to Judge Tod J. Kaufman of Kanawha County, Smith said he was not aware of the issue with the title because “he was working in the service section of the dealership, separate from the title and sales departments.”
And although Kaufman states that the DMV “referenced a number of violations” with regard to Pristine and titling, “the hearing which resulted in (Smith’s) salesperson license revocation was specifically limited to” the incident involving the Ford Freestyle.
“There is insufficient evidence in the record to show that (Smith) engaged in fraudulent activity while conducting business as a dealership owner,” Kaufman concluded.
“It is hereby ordered that the revocation of (Smith’s) salesperson license … is clearly wrong in light of the lack of evidence.”
The criminal charges against Smith and Crabtree remain in Mineral County Circuit Court.