Former San Diego Area Vehicle Dealer Sentenced For Fraud

California Department of Motor Vehicles
Media Relations Office
2415 First Avenue, MS F-122, Sacramento, CA 95818
Contact: DMV Media Relations

February 27, 2008

Sacramento –Douglas Harding, who owned the defunct Autopia Auto Sales and Leasing in Escondido, was sentenced in San Diego District Court late Tuesday to three years state prison, three years probation, and ordered to pay more than $2.1 million to defrauded customers.

Department of Motor Vehicles Director George Valverde applauded the work of DMV’s Investigations division in pursuing a case that has attracted widespread attention.  “Consumer protection is one of our highest priorities, and our Investigations division worked tenaciously with the District Attorney’s Office to bring closure to this case.”  “While the mass majority of dealers play by the rules, those who do not will be vigorously prosecuted.”

DMV investigators filed a multi-count criminal complaint with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office alleging that Harding had defrauded 30 customers in vehicle transactions totaling $1.18 million. Harding, who first came under investigation after DMV began receiving complaints in May 2006, pled guilty to counts of grand theft and passing worthless checks.  Victims included individuals, lending/banking institutions and other vehicle dealerships.

Harding was arrested at his home in Valley Center on Sept. 6, 2007. At that point, DMV investigators filed their complaint with the District Attorney’s Office. He was subsequently jailed.

Harding was charged with numerous counts of failing to pay off trade-in vehicles, failure to transfer registrations, failure to pay off consigned vehicles, financing vehicles with more than one lender, writing checks for loan payments on closed accounts and fraudulent vehicle sales.

DMV investigators said that an additional 147 vehicles connected to 52 alleged victims were not listed in the department’s original criminal complaint in September 2007, but were noted in court documents as “evidence of overt acts,” and said that total losses to victims exceeded more than $3 million.

Autopia Sales and Leasing was located at 760 W. Mission Avenue in Escondido, and had been out of business since September 2006.  It had been doing business at that location for 16 years.

DMV’s Investigations Division enhances consumer protection through active fraud/counterfeit detection, investigation, and enforcement services. The DMV is a department under the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, which is under the direction of Secretary Dale E. Bonner. The DMV licenses drivers; maintains driving records; registers and tracks official ownership of vehicles and vessels; investigates auto and identity-related fraud; and licenses car dealers, driving schools, and traffic violator schools

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