A high-end local auto dealer is suing the Ohio Department of Public Safety and the State Highway Patrol, claiming his business and reputation have been damaged by their investigation.
The highway patrol’s theft unit raided Mershon’s World of Cars, at 201 E. North St., in May after discovering a Vehicle Identification Number attached to two vehicles sold from the classic car dealer.
No charges have been filed to this date.
After searching the entire facility, the highway patrol confiscated two cars worth a total of $60,000, as well as two VIN plates and six data data trim tags, according to documents.
Tampered VIN numbers, as well as duplicate ones, indicate that a car may have been stolen, according to the highway patrol.
Owner Dan Mershon said Friday that he would not comment on the lawsuit or investigation until it’s over, and his attorney is out of the office because of surgery.
But in documents filed in Clark County Common Pleas Court, Mershon says Public Safety and the highway patrol’s actions “have harmed or will harm (Mershon’s) business relationships, will place a cloud upon the motor vehicle titles and will disregard both Ohio statutory law and Ohio case precedent.”
Besides preventing sale of the two vehicles confiscated, the investigation casts a shadow on the validity of the business’ vehicles.
Mershon’s — which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2011 — sells about 200 cars a year, most of which to overseas customers. The cars range in price from $60,000 to more than $200,000.
Mershon is asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment that he owns the seized vehicles and that the highway patrol is improperly keeping them, an order requiring the vehicles to be returned to Mershon and an injunction against anyone acting with in Department of Public Safety or highway patrol.
Highway Patrol officials said they could not comment on the lawsuit.
As for the investigation, it is still open and there is no timeline on when it will be complete, according to the highway patrol communications office. The two cars confiscated — a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle and a 1965 Pontiac GTO — will not be returned until authorities finish looking at “irregularities” in the vehicles, said a highway patrol official.
While the highway patrol would not say why they took those vehicles eight months ago, in a previous interview Mershon said the Chevrolet had no identification number on the motor and the Pontiac’s identification number was illegible.
Investigators look for numbers that don’t match various points of VIN location, plates that seem lifted or have altered numbers or plates that use different rivets than the manufacturer, said Lt. Anne Ralston, public information officer for the highway patrol in a previous interview.
“People do tamper with VINs,” Ralston said then. “It’s probably less common than just someone stealing it as part of a crime, maybe they commit a crime and stole a vehicle to get away or a joyride.”
According to the highway patrol, incidences of car dealers selling stolen cars is very uncommon and generally happens maybe once or twice a year.
Mershon’s World of Cars investigation timeline
March 2012: Bureau of Motor Vehicles received a complaint from an owner of a car purchased from Mershon’s World of Cars in 1994 that the title of his vehicle had been cancelled, and the same VIN number had been used to issue a title on a different car in 2009.
May 23, 2012: A search warrant for Mershon’s was issued by Clark County Municipal Court.
May 24, 2012: The Ohio State Highway Patrol Theft Unit raided Mershon’s World of Cars. That day authorities seized two cars, two VIN plates and six data trim tags.
Jan. 2, 2013: Merhon’s filed a lawsuit with Clark County Common Pleas Court against the Ohio Department of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol, saying that the raid and subsequent seizing of two cars from the lot has hurt owner Dan Mershon’s business and reputation.