Montecito Motors stopped business last week amidst allegations its owners have failed on multiple occasions to properly pay customers whose vehicles were sold out of the company’s lot on consignment. As of Friday, September 3, the high-end used car dealership is “technically closed,” said a salesperson, and there is no word yet when or if it will reopen.
According to other used car lot owners throughout the county, there’s been scuttlebutt flying around for weeks that the company has been struggling, but failing, to stay afloat. Talk intensified when uniformed police officers were spotted at the 530 Chapala Street property on Tuesday.
Detective Greg Hons said last week that he’s looking into six separate police reports filed by customers. The reports allege Montecito Motors, after selling owners’ cars on consignment, wouldn’t honor contractual agreements by fraudulently delaying payment, offering partial payment, or failing to disclose sales altogether. Since a version of this article ran on independent.com last Friday, Hons said he’s received calls from no fewer than six other people claiming they were similarly ripped off.
Hons said Montecito Motors owner and operator Adam Taylor stopped by the police station last Thursday and admitted the business is hurting financially and unable to keep up with its debts. Taylor was fully cooperative, relayed Hons, and told the detective that authorities are welcome to come by the lot’s office any time to sift through paperwork. He co-owns the company with his father, Chet, who purportedly suffered a heart attack recently and is unreachable.
Taylor acknowledged that he and his father have been delaying payments—sometimes for months at a time while dodging calls, say disgruntled customers—in order to make previous clients whole in the meantime. Multiple calls made to the Taylors and Montecito Motors for further comment had not been returned as of press time. The business has a listing of “suspended” on California’s Secretary of State Web site.
During his interview with Hons, Taylor complained about being “overextended” and finding himself in a position unable to pay clients back. He also mentioned it’s been difficult to secure credit because he had “defaulted on a couple of people.” In his opinion, Hons stated, Montecito Motors has been trying to “get out from under the bills” as the economy has “put [it] behind the eight ball.”
Possibly one of the people Taylor was referring to, Montecito Motors customer Gregory Price told The Independent this week that a car he brought to the dealership in May 2009—a 1969 Mercedes 280SE that belonged to his late father—was sold in December 2009 without his knowledge, and he has yet to see a dime of the $50,000 he’s owed. Price said someone in his family stopped by the dealership this past May to check on the car, but she was told it had been checked out by a prospective buyer.
Attempting to follow up with Adam and Chet Taylor in August when he caught wind the business was in serious trouble, Price—after purportedly getting the runaround for days—finally spoke with Chet, who admitted the car had been sold and shipped out of the country. Chet told Price he was “trying to work things out” and “get everyone paid,” but he wouldn’t comment beyond that.
Price has since filed a police report alleging grand theft auto and fraud—explaining he doesn’t know how the company could have executed a title transfer without the proper signatures on the vehicle’s pink slip—as well as launching a lawsuit and subpoenaing the DMV for all documents related to the sale. Price said he doesn’t yet know where the car went, who bought it, or what price Montecito Motors got for the vehicle.
The investigation is still in its early stages, and it will be up to the District Attorney’s Office to determine if any criminal charges will be filed. Tom Miller with the DA’s Office said he’s only been briefed on the matter and could not comment further until the police inquiry is completed.
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The original version of this story has been replaced with an updated piece.