Crime

Bellingham man didn’t own the Audi or have permission to sell it, yet he allegedly did

Here’s what the Bellingham Police Department does

The Bellingham Police Department enforces the law within Bellingham city limits.
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The Bellingham Police Department enforces the law within Bellingham city limits.

A Bellingham man reportedly deceived a couple into thinking he was brokering a deal for them to purchase a $21,500 Audi he did not own or have the right to sell in February, less than a year after he allegedly stole more than $6,000 in parts from another victim’s car he was supposed to be fixing.

Bellingham Police booked Edwin Mar Ortega, 27, into Whatcom County Jail on Monday, May 20, on suspicion of three counts of first-degree theft and one count of forgery, according to jail records. He was released Wednesday on $2,500 bail.

According to the Bellingham Police probable cause statement involving the Audi:

Ortega agreed to sell a 2014 Audi S4, which was licensed in California, to the couple. At the time, Ortega said the car was at a dealership in Seattle getting some repairs and showed them video of the car.

Ortega drew up a contract, which included the couple making a $5,500 down payment on Feb. 28. The couple secured a $16,000 loan and paid Ortega using a cashier’s check on March 12. Ortega deposited the check into his personal account and refunded $2,481 for taxes and licensing.

Ortega was supposed to deliver the Audi to the couple on March 13, but he never did, saying the car was still in the shop and he was waiting for the “funds to clear.”

After more excuses via text message, the couple reported the incident to the Bellingham Police on March 16. Ortega told police that the Audi was sold to a dealership in Washington and that, as the “broker,” he would work to refund the couple’s money.

On March 19, a Bellingham detective obtained a copy of the Audi’s title and contacted the owner in California, who informed police that he was expecting Ortega to fly to California that day to purchase the car. The car owner said that the two had been negotiating the sale and that the owner sent a copy of the title and video of the car to Ortega. The owner also reported having no idea that Ortega had already sold the car to someone else.

Police also learned that Ortega had provided the couple a bill of sale between himself and the owner in California and that the couple’s total losses as a result of the fraudulent transaction were $19,019.

Those crimes allegedly occurred less than a year after Ortega allegedly took $6,279 in auto parts from a car he was supposed to be fixing.

In that case, according to the Bellingham Police probable cause statement, Ortega was fixing the victim’s clutch on a 2002 Subaru Impreza at the victim’s home in May of 2018, when Ortega suggested moving the car to the auto mechanic shop he worked at in downtown Bellingham. At the time it was moved, the Impreza had all the necessary parts for repair inside.

Months went by after the car was moved, according to the report, and at one point Ortega reportedly told the victim that the parts were damaged in a fire at the shop and that he had filed an insurance report. The victim told police he never saw proof of an insurance claim.

After the fire, Ortega reportedly moved the Impreza to his own home in the 800 block of Blueberry Lane without the victim’s knowledge, according to the report. The victim also reportedly continued to get excuses about holdups on the work and eventually had the Impreza towed to another repair shop, where a large number of parts were discovered missing from the car.

Warrants for Ortega’s arrest for both incidents were issued out of Whatcom County Superior Court on May 5, according to court records.

Bellingham Police contacted Ortega on Monday in the 800 block of Lakeway Drive as he was attempting to register a vehicle, and he was arrested without incident.

Avoiding ‘Curbstoners’

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General cautions responding to classified ads for a seller that has several cars for sale but no car lot or showroom. Unlicensed auto dealers are referred to as “Curbstoners.”

According to the state Attorney General’s website:

State law requires anyone who sells more than five vehicles in a 12-month period to obtain a dealer’s license. The law is intended to protect buyers from vehicle title transfer problems and buying unregistered, wrecked or rebuilt vehicles or those with rolled back odometers.

Curbstoners do not become licensed and often attempt to take advantage of buyers.

If you are making a non-dealer sale, put a purchase and sales agreement in writing and include a description of the vehicle, the price, a statement that the seller has a clear title to the vehicle and all other promises or agreements.

“No matter whom you buy from, insist on a thorough test drive and independent mechanical inspection before you negotiate the price and other terms,” the website said.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.

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