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Consumer alert: Customers continue to have problems with Nationwide Auto, formerly Universal

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It's a business with a new name, and a new location, but the complaints are the same.

The News Channel 3 Investigators uncovered more problems for Memphis residents who buy cars, but can't get titles.

There's no name on the front of the building at 710 North Parkway in Uptown.

While there are signs for car repair services, and even a grand opening banner, some say that's only part of what's going on inside.

"This business is completely off the books, under the table...they're not registered to do business, they're not legitimate dealers," said Matt Jones, a staff attorney in the Consumer Unit at Memphis Area Legal Services.

Yet, Nationwide Auto is where Monique Williams bought a 2007 Nissan Altima last year.

She paid $3700 in cash after responding to an ad on Craigslist.

Williams said, "I took it for a test drive, then I paid for it. They told me to come back Friday, the same week to get the title, but when I came back Friday, I didn't have a title."

Which meant Williams couldn't register for tags. She said the Altima sat for months.

Williams said the people in charge at Nationwide, men who call themselves Lamonte Gray and Andrew Collins gave her the runaround.

Then she realized, she wasn't alone.

"I saw some reviews similar to mine, that's when I got Memphis Legal Services involved."

Jones told WREG the complaints are so bad, even employees at the county clerk's office are familiar with the names.

"This individual's name is Lamonte Gray. He is the one that's doing the classic scam. There's no better word for it than a scam," added Jones.

Jones said it's fraudulent for Gray to sell the cars and not disclose the fact they're salvaged.

He's won three judgments against the people at Nationwide, including Williams' case.

"The judgment in her case was important because through the court system, we were able to prove that this car could be rebuilt."

Because of the court order, Williams was able to get a title, and is driving her car today.

If the names Lamonte Gray and Andrew Collins sound familiar, it's because the News Channel 3 Investigators have covered repeated complaints against them and their businesses.

Customers say they can't get titles from Universal Auto

Attorney says auto repair shop scamming customers

Couple files complaint with state over car

Woman shot at Auto Body Repair Shop

WREG visited the location on North Parkway.

After an introduction, a worker said, "We closed."

WREG said, "But there's work being done right now. "

He responsed, "No it's our private lot, we working on our own vehicles."

"So these are all private vehicles," WREG asked?

"Yeah private."

WREG said, "We've talked to customers who purchased vehicles, and can't get titles."

The worker interrupted and said, "Can you all leave? In case something happens to you all all, can you leave?"

We asked, "What do you mean in case something happens to us?"

He responded, "Anything can happen, we're working on this lot and we don't want nothing to happen to you all."

The man, who didn't identify himself, closed the fence.

Another worker came back to speak with WREG.

He said, "We're under new management, the guy y'all looking for he ain't here no more. I been here six months."

It's something the News Channel 3 Investigators have heard before, and another customer said he dealt with Gray just last month.

Carlos Burns said he paid Gray $3,100 for a Nissan Maxima in September (also after responding to a post on Craigslist).

Burns said he couldn't get tags, so he went back, hoping to get an explanation or a refund.

Gray gave him $1,000 and a handwritten letter, promising another Maxima or the rest of his money by a certain date in October.

It's November, and Burns said he doesn't have a car or the cash.

"He got the car, only thing I have is a thousand dollars and he got a balance of $2100 of my money."

Jones told WREG,  it's important for anyone buying a car, to do their homework.

"You need to do your research."

Jones says consumers should never drive away without a title.

As for Gray, he has a lengthy criminal history.

State regulators shut down a previous dealership under Collins and said he couldn't get another license.

Also, earlier this year, the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission tried to take action against the individuals involved at Nationwide.

Records show the Commission scheduled a hearing to address the fact that they were operating without a license.

A spokesperson, Kevin Walters, says the MVC eventually closed the complaints because they couldn't find Gray, Collins or the others involved.  However, it could be re-opened if that changes.

The spokesperson said, "These are infamous bad actors in the auto business and typically close under one business name and then reappear at another location using a different business name. When identified, they vanish for a while and reappear with a new identity."

Jones said local authorities should use the public nuisance law to put the brakes on bad business.

"I think it would be worth looking into from the government's perspective that you have individuals operating these pseudo businesses, that are perpetrating frauds on the public."

The customers WREG talked to say they don't care how it's done, they just don't want anyone else to go through a similar ordeal.

"They need to be shut down, said Williams."

"Shut them down, shut them down. I don't want them to be able to sell the public nothing," said Burns.

As for being declared a public nuisance, the District Attorney's Office says it takes notice of locations where crime patterns exist and works closely with MPD, and the City's legal division in determining if and when a petition should be filed.