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North Texas Teen Pays Salesman $10K For Used SUV, Then Dealership Repossess It

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - A Fort Worth teenager had a vehicle he believed he purchased, repossessed by a Fort Worth used car dealership.

Five months after 16-year-old Johnathon Fredricks paid a part-time salesman nearly $10,000 for a compact SUV, the vehicle was towed back to the Fort Worth dealership, I Drive-DFW.

The used car dealership said the Mazda SUV was theirs and was unaware that a former part-time salesman had sold the vehicle.

Fredricks paid James Steelman directly for the vehicle because Steelman told the teenager and his grandfather the Mazda was his personal vehicle.

The I Drive-DFW manager said he sold the Mazda SUV to Steelman just months prior, but Steelman had stopped making payments on it so the dealership repossessed it.

The dealership said Steelman was working as a freelance salesman the day the Fredricks came in, but the manager said he was unaware that Steelman had sold them the Mazda.

Steelman told the CBS 11 I-Team said he owned the Mazda CX5 outright because of a prior business deal with I Drive-DFW.

While the dealership and Steelman dispute who owns the vehicle, Fredricks is left without a vehicle and the nearly $10,000 he used to pay for it.

"I worked at Chick-fil-A for about a year saving up for that car," said the 16-year-old. "That's the most frustrating part is how long I worked saving up for it."

Johnathon Fredricks
Johnathon Fredricks (CBS 11)

When Fredricks turned 16, he and his grandfather went looking for a vehicle at I Drive-DFW.

After initially not finding a vehicle they wanted, Steelman showed them his 2016 Mazda CX5.

"It looked great. It was super clean, nice, and pretty new so I was like let's go for it," Fredricks said.

When they went to write the check, Steelman told them it was his personal car and to make the cashier check out to him.

So they did for $9,893.

Fredricks and his grandfather said Steelman gave them a Bill of Sale of Vehicle receipt and told them he would send them the vehicle's title.

"I believed him," said Fredricks' grandfather, Larry Messer. "He (Steelman) was the nicest man and I guess that's how you get in this kind of trouble."

Five months later, Fredricks was out shopping when he walked out and saw his vehicle being towed.

I Drive-DFW repossessed the vehicle.

"We stopped the tow truck guy and we started talking to him. We were like this is my car," explained Fredricks. "It didn't make sense because I paid cash."

Steelman told the CBS 11 I-Team, "I sold the car on good intentions. It was going to be his (Fredricks) and I was perfectly willing to sign over the title as soon as I got it. All this other stuff is ridiculous."

Steelman said because of prior business deals with I Drive-DFW, the Mazda was already paid off. He said he was just waiting for the dealership to give him the title so he could give it to Fredricks.

When the I-Team asked Steelman in an interview if he had any records showing he had paid off the vehicle, his attorney interrupted and said they were not going to get into specifics about the case.

Steelman told the I-Team he filed for bankruptcy before the dealership repossessed the car and notified the I Drive-DFW that the vehicle was a protected asset.

"I'm just trying to make it right as best I can," Steelman told the I-Team.

In 2008, Steelman was sentenced to a year in state jail after pleading guilty to felony debit card abuse and theft by check.

Prior to that, he had been convicted four other times for white collar crimes, including deceptive trade practice and forgery.

"That was 10 years ago," Steelman said. "Since then, I've been doing nothing but trying to make my life better and to better people around me. Everybody has a past. I can't change my past. All I can do is do what I do now."

While both Steelman and I Drive DFW told the I-Team they are doing whatever they can to make it right, the Mazda Fredricks paid for still sits on locked up at the dealership.

"I just hope this doesn't happen again to anyone else because it's such a frustrating experience," Fredricks said.

Buyer Beware Tip

When buying a car through a private sale, the seller should be able to show you the title and the seller should be listed as the owner - and the only owner.

There should be no financing company listed.

If the seller has financed the car with a third-party financing company and hasn't paid off the loan, that should be a red flag.


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