Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Odometer Watchers May Have Their Trip Cut Short

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Odometer Watchers May Have Their Trip Cut Short

Article excerpt

MAYBE "federal odometer agent" doesn't have the resonance of "FBI," but you should feel comfortable knowing that all four federal odometer agents are watchdogs of the law.

At least for now.

Congress will decide within a few weeks - maybe even this week - whether the federal odometer police will go into the federal trash can.

Odometer fraud is a huge business. The Department of Transportation says it's a $3 billion-a-year business.

We're not talking about a couple of hundred miles here. The average rollback is about 40,000 miles. When you buy a car that's rolled back that much, you're paying about $4,000 more than you should.

In 1978, a single federal odometer investigator named Richard Morse set up his office. The federal government recognized that odometer fraud was a problem: No one trusted the mileage readings on used cars.

Maybe the federal government thought that odometer fraud was an industry small enough for one guy to control. But at least the government realized that fraud was happening and that America's used-car buyers deserved protection, too.

So Morse started investigating big odometer fraud cases. He went after criminals who make careers out of selling used cars with the mileage reduced - rollback artists. One of Morse's major tasks was to help state agencies work cases that crossed state lines.

Ten years ago, Morse got some help. Officials of the federal Department of Transportation gave Morse four field agents, three secretaries and the title of chief of the odometer fraud staff. One agent was posted to Washington, one to Kansas City, one to Denver and one to Atlanta.

Since then, Morse and his agents have pursued rollback artists across the country, hauled them into court and squeezed fines out of them. The agency has won about 250 convictions since 1985.

From 1985 through 1992, the odometer fraud staff has helped send almost $7 million in fines to the federal Treasury. …

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