He calls himself a "DMV Specialist," but his clients call Randolph Williams "the Title Man." Williams' numerous customers hire him to obtain Florida titles -- legal documents of ownership. And for a $150 fee, he has an uncanny ability to get the documents quickly and easily, be they for a car, a boat, or a piece of heavy machinery. In his seven years in the business, he's gotten thousands of titles for used-car dealers, body shops, mechanics, marinas, and towing companies from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Williams' success is based on his mastery of state laws, which he routinely uses -- and, records show, he routinely breaks. Title applications that Williams has submitted to the state contain lies, forgeries, false notaries, and fictitious names and addresses, a New Times investigation has found. Each untruth and misrepresentation on those documents, according to Florida law, is a third-degree felony. The New Times investigation has also found that Williams has held phony auctions that he advertises in local newspapers, where his client is the only "bidder" and gets the car for well under its market value.
Police call it title fraud, which is a third-degree felony itself and can also legitimize other serious crimes, like car theft, odometer fraud, the "washing" of insurance claims and wrecks from cars' histories, and the illegal taking of cars by unethical auto mechanics, towing companies, and any other business that has access to vehicles. Some of the cars Williams tried to title for his clients were stolen; others were wrongly taken from their owners. Two million dollars' worth of luxury cars that he titled went to one Fort Lauderdale dealership, the Sako Leasing Company. While the paperwork Williams filed with the state claims that many of the Sako cars were "abandoned" in Broward County, Williams admits now that they actually came from another Sako dealership in Canada, which, if true, indicates that numerous laws were broken in those transactions, as well.
Other cars Williams titled were involved in various types of disputes. For instance, when a mechanic claims, rightly or wrongly, that a car owner hasn't paid him for work he's done, the mechanic hires Williams and soon gains title to the car, whether the mechanic should have it or not. Same thing with towing companies and marinas that have disputes over storage charges. While no criminal charge has ever been filed in these types of cases, several civil lawsuits claiming theft and fraud have been filed against either Williams or the company that hired him. Still other vehicles, listed by Williams as "foreign," which means simply that they come from out of state, remain mysteries.
The victims of title fraud include the owners of cars that have been taken, finance companies that had liens on the cars, insurance companies and their customers (who inevitably bear the burden of these crimes with rate hikes), and the state itself when both the spirit and the letter of the law are broken by fraud artists.
Though it's an inherent part of most vehicular crimes, rampant title fraud in South Florida is all but hidden -- from both police and the public, say law-enforcement officers. Virtually no one is watching over companies that do title work. Title businesses like Williams' require no state license; there is no state certification or education required for it. Because state regulators have no control over these businesses, the task of stopping fraud is left to law-enforcement agencies. Williams -- who boasts an extensive education and says he used to be a certified public accountant -- has been investigated for title fraud in the past, and the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) claims to be investigating him right now. In Palm Beach County, a previous FHP investigation, beginning in 1997 and spanning 18 months, ended with nine felony counts of title fraud against Williams, who has yet to go to trial on any. The Florida Marine Patrol charged him with two felonies last year in a case involving a stolen boat. But the charges haven't come close to stopping him. Williams, who works in Deerfield Beach and is still hustling business at the age of 62, says he isn't about to stop doing title work.
"Fuck them," Williams says of state investigators. Sitting in his cluttered, book-lined office, he promises to fight the charges against him in court. "This is America. This is not a police state. I don't think they know what to do in these cases.... Cops are always making boo-boos and making asses out of themselves."
Even if Williams is convicted of title fraud, prosecutors say he'll likely get only probation because the alleged crimes are nonviolent, white-collar, third-degree felonies. Williams calls them "practically misdemeanors," and he swears he's never titled a car knowing that it was stolen or that there was any other illegality involved with it.
"Is this a crooked operation? Do I deal with crooks? Occasionally," Williams says, breaking into laughter.
Later he says, "If what I do is so wrong, then why am I still sitting here?"
Law-enforcement officials say the answer to that question is that the State of Florida and the federal government have failed to implement laws and needed information systems that would make it exceedingly more difficult to successfully commit title fraud. As long as the laws don't change, they say, neither will men like Randolph Williams.
The stamped and notarized papers arrived at the DMV in Tallahassee showing that Ilius Kharam is a man with a taste for expensive automobiles. Kharam, according to the official paperwork, had a Porsche Carrera, two Jeep Cherokees, and a Plymouth Voyager, all of them about a year old and owned outright. In addition to these beauties, Kharam also had a 1996 Honda, a 1996 Dodge, a 1994 Ford, and a stable of vehicles from the '80s, among them a Daihatsu, two Chevys, a Nissan, a Honda, a Hyundai, and a Suzuki. In all, he had 19 vehicles that together were worth a couple hundred thousand dollars.
The story the paperwork tells, however, takes a bizarre turn. Kharam abandoned all 19 cars at once. Without so much as a peep or a trace, the man with the exotic name vanished in 1997, leaving behind the Porsche and the Jeeps and the Plymouth and all those other less valuable cars at 1710 N. Powerline Rd. in Pompano Beach.
That's when Williams entered the picture. Claiming to represent the landlord of the property, Williams advertised in the Boca Raton News an auction for Kharam's cars, to be held at the Powerline Road address. The Jeeps, the Porsche, and the Plymouth Voyager were then purchased at the auction by the Sako Leasing Company, which has one of those car lots on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale that is loaded with luxury cars like late-model Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, and Porsches.
There was another strange thing about some of the automobiles that wound up in Sako's hands: Williams listed them as "inoperable" because of faulty engines, faulty transmissions, or other mechanical problems. The inoperable status exempted the cars from having to go through the state-required emissions inspection.
That information is all according to DMV records. But don't believe what is on paper. Ilius Kharam doesn't exist, or if he does, he never owned those cars, and the address "1710 N. Powerline Rd." is fictional. The cars, according to Williams, were instead possessed by Sako Leasing all along and brought to Fort Lauderdale from another Sako Leasing Company location in Montreal, Canada. To get his titles, Williams uses a twisted subterfuge, and he's used it to get titles on hundreds of cars for dozens of different businesses. To understand his methods, it pays to go to the statutes that Williams exploits.
These particular laws fall under what's called the landlord-tenant lien, which is supposed to be used only in the obvious instance -- when a tenant leaves a car at a rented housing unit. Williams uses the lien in more creative ways. According to police reports, he simply makes up a tenant, like Ilius Kharam, and an address. The only thing that is real is the car. While Williams won't say that Kharam is fictional, he also doesn't claim he's real. There is no such name on the rolls of Florida driver's licenses.
"Prove that he doesn't exist," Williams challenges. "It's not easy -- you can't prove somebody doesn't exist just because you can't find them."
His first order of business in the Sako deals was to fill out a "Notice of Right to Reclaim Abandoned Property" on the car. In it Williams represented himself as the landlord's agent (which he isn't) and listed the car's fictional owner and address. On this document Williams included the true year and make of Sako's vehicle, along with the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which never changes through the life of the car. On the form, Williams claimed to have hand-delivered notice to the tenant. To legitimize the form, police records show that Williams routinely uses either fake notaries or his own wife, Martha Williams, who is a notary and whose name appears on many of the documents.
The next piece of paper in the process was a signed and notarized affidavit stating that the fictional owner of the property had tried to locate Ilius Kharam but had failed to find him. Williams ran an ad in a newspaper -- his paper of choice of late has been the Broward Daily Business Review -- that listed the "abandoned" cars and an auction date. His use of a less-than-widely read newspaper is routine -- he doesn't advertise in any major daily. By law Williams is supposed to run the ad at least 15 days prior to the auction, but he doesn't regularly do that, either. For instance, on June 2 he advertised auctions that were to be held on June 10. That alone should have been enough to keep the state from issuing a title.
Then came the auction, which is usually no auction at all -- especially when it's held at a fictional address. On the day of the nonexistent auction, Williams simply filled out a bill of sale to Sako, on which Williams listed himself as the seller. He then filed a form to allow Sako a dealer's sales-tax exemption on the purchase. On the tax-exemption form is clearly printed, "This statement is executed under penalty of perjury." But it didn't stop Williams from filing many of these forms with false information.
As for some of those cars being inoperable, Williams says he never had any proof of it -- even though he was risking breaking the law if it wasn't true and was instead a ploy to get around the state's required emissions inspection. If it seems unlikely that a slew of fairly new cars would all be mechanically inoperable, Williams doesn't seem to believe it either. Williams' response: "That's what I was told."
With Sako, Williams says he titled $2 million worth of very expensive cars in a one-year period ending last year. The official bills of sale that show Williams sold the cars to Sako were phony, Williams says. He also says Sako manager Bob Miller simply told him a sales figure, usually well under market value, to put down for each car, and other than his regular fee, Williams says he never saw a dime of the profits from the phony sales. A sample of just six of the title applications Williams filed on Sako cars shows a total of $93,000 in sales Williams now says didn't happen.
"I saw more money going through Sako than I did in all my previous business put together," Williams says. "I'm only a pawn in this, a pencil pusher. I'm a get-it-through-the-system guy. Why do you think Sako used me?"
Miller refused to answer this question or any other inquiry pertaining to car sales involving Williams for New Times, saying he'd save his comments for the authorities. It isn't known if the Florida Highway Patrol is investigating those cars, but another state law-enforcement agency, the Florida Marine Patrol (FMP), did investigate one of Miller's boats, a stolen vessel from Montreal worth $60,000 that court records show Miller allegedly bought at the Sako dealership in Fort Lauderdale.
The 30-foot Powerquest boat was inspected by the FMP -- which inspects every boat before issuing a new title -- after Williams filed an application to title it to Miller. The paperwork filed by Williams in the title application included a phony landlord-tenant lien and indicated the boat had been purchased by Miller at a public auction for a mere $1700, according to court records filed by FMP investigators. When questioned, Miller supplied the FMP with papers indicating that he'd actually bought the boat at Sako in Fort Lauderdale for $20,000 from "a Nicolas Lacroix" of Quebec and claimed that he had no idea the boat was stolen or that Williams had submitted fraudulent paperwork. The FMP also found that Williams had forged Miller's signature on the documents, but Williams swears he was authorized by Miller to do so. Williams made up the information on the title application about it being abandoned "because he thought that it was the easiest way to get Miller the title," FMP investigator Robert Pachucki wrote in his arrest report that charged Williams with providing false information to obtain a title and forgery. "[Williams] emphasized that he had no idea that the vessel was stolen."
Williams, who says he is not guilty and is taking the case to court, is incensed that the FMP didn't dig deeper into the case to find out exactly how Miller got possession of the boat and investigate the mysterious "Nicolas Lacroix." FMP Lt. Lee Palfrey, who supervised the case, counters that he notified the Montreal police of the situation and doesn't have the resources to investigate a boat stolen in Canada.
"He knew that boat was hot," Williams says of Miller. "He had to know."
"We can't arrest somebody on a 'had to know,'" Palfrey counters.
Palfrey says Miller was asked how he could possibly have bought a $60,000 boat for a fraction of its worth and answered that it was because he has large amounts of cash on hand, which helps him get bargains.
The case boils down to the question of who is lying. The FMP decided it was Williams, which isn't surprising, since his lies are sealed in official papers and he allegedly admitted such to the FMP. But Williams now insists he was only following Miller's instructions, and Williams' attorney, Maurice Graham, has set out to poke holes in Miller's credibility. Graham says he wonders if Lacroix -- who isn't in the Montreal phone book -- is even a real person. Palfrey says he, too, doubts that Lacroix is real but adds that it doesn't mean Miller didn't buy a boat from someone claiming to be a "Nicolas Lacroix."
"You have an international theft case on that boat, and who do they get? Me," says Williams, who adds that he was suspicious of Sako from the beginning and checked with the Broward Sheriff's Office to make sure the Sako dealership in Montreal was valid before he engaged in business with them. "I had no idea where that boat came from. I only put in the information they tell me to. Miller is the one making all the money, not me."
Regarding the money he does make, Williams becomes animated and says he earns only $200 -- $50 more than his regular fee -- on out-of-state vehicles. "You tell me how I'm getting rich working my ass off!" he exclaims.
As far as is known, law enforcement hasn't even investigated the imported Sako cars. U.S. Customs officials, however, say they will begin their own probe into Sako's importation of cars, to make sure the cars have been declared to the federal government, any necessary duty was paid on them, and they comply with federal safety and environmental standards.
While Customs seems to be coming in late in the game, a pair of private investigators in Broward County has been investigating those Sako cars -- and hundreds of other title applications filed by Williams -- for the past two years. Bruce Fletcher, age 86, and Bill Main, 48, have made it their mission to put Williams behind bars. The two relentless PIs stumbled onto Williams only by chance. During their investigation Main and Fletcher have filed criminal complaints and turned over evidence against Williams to the Broward Sheriff's Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, and even the U.S. Customs Service.
Yet nothing seems to happen.
"One thing Bill believes," says Fletcher of his partner, "is that when you find a felony, it's a crime, and you give it to the police, and they're going to do something about it. But he found out he was wrong."
It's auction day, and Bill Main is set to confirm that, in fact, there will be no auction, no matter what Williams' ad in the Daily Business Review said. The ad, which ran in the classified section under "Legal Notices" on June 2, includes a total of 22 cars to be auctioned off by six different companies. The first stop for Main is Top Dollar Pawn -- which "specializes in auto loans" -- on Dixie Highway in Pompano Beach. Top Dollar is supposed to be auctioning three cars, a 1990 Honda, a 1996 Ford, and a 1993 Honda. Main goes straight inside to get answers.
The owner, Henry Peterson, is sitting at his desk in the pawn shop. At his waist is a leather pouch with the handle of a .38 revolver jutting from it.
"I'm here for the auction," Main says without hesitation, holding the newspaper ad in his hands.
"Who are you?" Peterson asks belligerently.
"There's an auction listed here in the newspaper, and I'm here to bid on the cars," Main says.
"I don't have to talk to you," Peterson says, apparently smelling trouble. "Get the fuck out of here."
The two men argue back and forth for a time before Main finally walks out with the pistol-packing Peterson yelling at him, "Go!"
After the supposed auction, Peterson told New Times that only one of the three cars was in his lot. He says he found out that one of them -- which was pawned at his shop -- was a wreck and plans to sell that to an exporter to take to another country. The other two he said he bought at a towing company's auction, but the owner of the company never gave him titles. Which is why he hired Randolph Williams. He says he has no idea where the cars came from before he bought them -- and a call to the DMV reveals that none of the three cars was ever titled in Florida. He says he kicked Main out of his pawn shop because he didn't like the "way he came off." But Peterson, by law, is still required to allow anyone to bid on those cars, whether he likes them or not. Peterson also says he's not used to seeing people come to one of his "auctions." "People never show up for them," he says.
With one auction out of the way, Main headed to Dirt Cheap Corp., which Williams listed in Pompano Beach at 620 NE 42nd St. Main was particularly interested in this auction -- it's supposed to include a 1995 Mercedes-Benz from an unknown foreign country, which only heightens his curiosity. When Main arrived, the business turned out not to be Dirt Cheap at all but instead a company called International, Inc., which is run in one of countless rundown warehouse bays along Dixie Highway.
International is an unlicensed used-car sales dealership run by Salvatore Labella, who is a convicted felon on probation for counterfeiting temporary license tags. At one time Labella owned a company called AA Dirt Cheap in Hollywood, which may explain the "Dirt Cheap Corp." reference, but that company is now defunct. Working with Labella is partner Stanley Frizzell, a convicted thief who also is on probation. While the fact that two felons on probation working together at an unlicensed car dealership might seem to be of interest to the probation office in Pompano, it apparently isn't. The two men do business there every day.
Main finds Frizzell and asks about the Mercedes. Frizzell examines the newspaper article. "I don't know anything about it," Frizzell says. "There's no auction here."
Soon Main is in Labella's office asking questions. Suddenly both Frizzell and Labella remember the car. It was owned by some guy. It came from Germany. It had been there a few days. It isn't there anymore. They have no idea why Williams said there would be an auction. Labella dials Williams' phone number. "He's not there," he says. "I don't know what's going on."
Main leaves. It's the end of another morning in his dogged investigation of Randolph Williams and the businesses that hire him.
Main and Fletcher came to learn about Williams when they were hired two years ago by Tim Sheehan, owner of Sheehan Pontiac in Fort Lauderdale, to find a 1993 Grand Am that had been mysteriously taken from its owner. Another Sheehan company, Guardian Financial Services, was financing the Grand Am, so Sheehan had a financial stake in seeing it returned. What Fletcher and Main found was another of Williams' scams.
They found that the Grand Am had been sold to Williams by an ex-girlfriend of the owner without permission. Williams then, by his own admission, gained a fraudulent title on it and resold it to a man named Gregory Ceravolo. This is an example of one of Williams' freelance jobs -- no company hired him to do it.
"That whole file was screwy, was bad," Williams says. "That's the only fraudulent deal I've ever been involved with. That was my fault."
It took them weeks, but Main and Fletcher finally tracked down the Grand Am and returned it to Guardian, much to the consternation of Ceravolo, who lost the car for which he'd paid $5000 and has since sued Williams for civil theft and fraud.
In the meantime Main contends that Williams, in addition to unlawfully buying the car from the girlfriend and fraudulently titling and selling it, may have committed mail fraud in obtaining the Grand Am. One question that arises in many of Williams' deals is why lien holders on the cars don't come and get them before they're auctioned, which they have a right to do as long as they pay whatever the company claims is owed. Williams is required by law to notify lien holders by certified mail before the auction. Main contends that Williams never did but instead filed papers with the state that made it appear he had. Main says he has the paperwork to prove it. Williams sent a postal record to the state showing that a Guardian employee named "Helene Bell" signed a certified letter he'd sent the company. The problem, according to the owner of the company, Tim Sheehan, was that no one named Helene Bell has ever worked at Guardian, and the U.S. Postal Service confirmed in correspondence to Main that such a letter was never sent in the mail.
Main reported his findings to the Florida Highway Patrol. "But nobody ever did anything about it," he says.
When confronted by Guardian, Williams paid it more than $6000, and the company didn't pursue criminal charges against him. Main and Fletcher, however, wanted to see Williams behind bars. "When Sheehan didn't make a stink about it, we decided that we were going to go after Williams ourselves," Main says.
Since then Fletcher and Main, the latter doing most of the footwork, collected hundreds of title applications that Williams has filed at the DMV office in Deerfield Beach. In that time they've prompted various law-enforcement agencies to seize $25,000 worth of fraudulently titled heavy machinery from a Port Everglades company called Marino Trucking, another of Williams' customers. The machinery -- a trailer chassis and a wood-chipper -- was actually owned by other companies until Williams titled it over to Marino Trucking. Those cases, according to Broward Sheriff's Office reports, are currently under investigation by the highway patrol based on Main's complaint. The owner of the company, Dan Marino (unrelated to the Miami Dolphins quarterback), says he did nothing wrong in either instance, though he couldn't explain how the wood-chipper got in his company's possession. Like most who hire Williams, Marino says he heard about him through a friend and found that he did efficient title-work. Marino adds that he decided not to fight the seizures because it would be too much trouble.
Main has also led the FHP to seize two fraudulently titled cars -- a Lexus and a Mercedes -- from the lot at Gold Key Auto Sales on Federal Highway. The owner of Gold Key, Mark Solomon, also says he did nothing wrong. He claims he doesn't even know Randolph Williams, an assertion that raises more questions than it answers, the most important one being, why was Williams titling the car to Solomon's company if Solomon didn't know it? Williams said he can't remember the Gold Key deals.
Such is the world of Williams, Main says. Nobody seems to know anything about Williams' work, including the people who are actually gaining title to the cars, boats, or heavy machinery he titles. Though Main is frustrated about law enforcement's failure to stop his nemesis, various detectives have investigated Williams for the past three years. They just haven't been very effective. At least not yet.
In February 1997 the DMV office in Delray Beach discovered that Williams was trying to get a title on a 1994 Jeep Cherokee with an identification number that came back to a wrecked Jeep from Edmonton, Canada. An active theft case in Edmonton on the Jeep revealed someone had stolen its VIN plate, which is located just under the windshield on the driver-side dashboard. It's a serious crime to steal a VIN plate, in part because Canadian authorities have worked several theft rings in which VIN plates from wrecked cars in Canada wind up on stolen cars in the United States. The case was forwarded -- incorrectly, it would turn out -- to the Broward Sheriff's Office, apparently because Williams works in Deerfield Beach and the vehicle was being titled to a Pompano Beach car dealership, International, Inc., Salvatore Labella's company.
BSO Det. Tommie Cooper, of the auto theft unit, investigated the case. According to law-enforcement reports, Cooper spoke with Williams, who admitted that he'd filed the title application with fictional names. Cooper wrote in reports that Williams said he'd made up the names and explained to Cooper: "Sometimes you got to do what you have to do and move on to the next deal." (Williams denies he ever said this.) Cooper then interviewed Labella and Williams together. Labella initially said he didn't recall the Jeep, but after Williams reminded him, Labella "remembered the events," according to Cooper's report, and both men admitted they'd made up the names to facilitate the title. The Jeep has never been recovered, and when asked Labella told Cooper that it was "somewhere between here and Canada," according to reports. Labella told Cooper that he was obtaining a title for the Jeep for a man named Michael Vlachich. Cooper arrested both Labella and Williams and charged them with title fraud.
But the State Attorney's Office determined that the crime of title fraud had actually been committed at the tag office in Palm Beach County, where Williams submitted his paperwork for the Jeep. So the charges were dropped. Cooper then forwarded his information to John Tower, an FHP investigator in Palm Beach County, who immediately remembered the name "Michael Vlachich" from a previous theft case and looked up the file. In it he discovered that Vlachich had been found in possession of $230,000 worth of stolen heavy equipment in 1995 and that the equipment had been repainted to look as if it were owned by International, Inc. Vlachich was charged with theft and is currently a fugitive from justice. Tower also learned that Labella and his company had been investigated in that case, but troopers "could not get anything on them criminally."
Before hanging up the phone on a reporter, Labella told New Times that he was simply doing a friend a favor by having the Jeep titled and didn't know it was connected to a stolen VIN plate in Canada. He also said he still sells cars, despite the fact that he no longer holds a Florida dealer's license. As for the Mercedes that was to be auctioned, his story changed again. He was trying to have it titled for a friend, he said. Williams said he refused to title the car when Labella couldn't provide records on it.
Tower chose not to refile charges on Labella, he said, because he decided early on that his investigation was going to focus solely on Williams. And he says he could hardly believe what he found.
"It was ridiculous," Tower says of the allegedly fake names and addresses he found in Williams' title applications. In his investigative report, Tower detailed the fact that mysterious people -- people like "Ilius Kharam," only with different names -- were popping up in paperwork over and over again leaving cars at fictional addresses. Williams, it appeared, was working as an "agent" for numerous realty companies, where abandoned cars were turning up repeatedly. Tower went to the addresses and found that many of them were fictitious. He also couldn't find men listed in the reports, like "Fred Haynes," "Stanley Merrill," and "Milton Pappas," who, according to the paperwork, were serial car-abandoners. The investigation became so complex and twisted that Tower narrowed the number of applications he would examine down to 18.
In December 1998 Tower met with his supervisor, Lt. Frank Howell, and they decided that it was time to bring the 18-month investigation to a close. To do this they further limited the case to nine of Williams' title applications. On December 14 Williams was charged with nine third-degree felony counts of title fraud.
Some of the cars listed in Tower's reports point to one of Williams' main sources of clients -- auto body and car repair businesses, many of which use Williams to gain title to cars owned by their customers. Such businesses are allowed by law to gain ownership of a customer's car if they have fixed a car but the customer refuses to pay.
Enter Vijay Ramlogan. Unlike Ilius Kharam, Ramlogan is real -- he's a citizen of Trinidad who resides in Broward County and runs a business in Pompano Beach called V&S Auto Body. Felix and Ida Delgado say he stole their 1994 Mitsubishi Galant.
Williams, of course, was Ramlogan's title man.
Both men remember well the recent chance meeting in the Wal-Mart store in Coral Springs. "What's up, Vijay? You piece of shit," Felix Delgado said as he approached Vijay Ramlogan. "I'm not through with you."
"I'm not through with you," Ramlogan said almost under his breath. Ramlogan's kids were there, and he was embarrassed.
"What's that?" asked Delgado, who is a big man, as he edged up into Ramlogan's face. "I want everyone to know how big a thief you are!" he yelled out to everyone in the store.
Ramlogan took the verbal abuse quietly, until Delgado finally had enough. But Delgado, a family man who runs a cleaning service, still wants blood. "To this day I want to feed him to the crocodiles," says Delgado, sitting in his immaculate home in a staunchly middle-class neighborhood. "But I tried to do it the legal way, and that didn't work out."
"He is crazy," says Ramlogan, a frumpy man with a mustache and a gut, both thick, and a limp handshake. "He threatened me!" Delgado has reason to be furious -- Ramlogan took possession of his Galant and sold it to an exporter, who shipped it to the Bahamas.
According to a civil suit the Delgados filed against Ramlogan, the story began in 1997 when the Galant was involved in a traffic accident. The Delgados left it with a car painting company called Color-All Technologies, which then had it moved to Ramlogan's shop. When the Delgados went to Ramlogan, he told them he'd already fixed it and that it would cost them roughly $1800, the suit alleged. Delgado says he was furious. He says there was never an estimate and that Ramlogan was never authorized to do work on the car.
Delgado eventually paid Ramlogan $500 and told him he'd be back later that month with the rest, according to the civil suit. When Delgado returned with $1300 cash, he saw Ramlogan's children were playing in his Mitsubishi. "There was change in the change drawer and a Hindu coloring book in there," Delgado recalls. "He was driving my car around."
After shooing his kids out of the car, Ramlogan told Delgado that he couldn't have it back. It was now the property of V&S Auto Body. Delgado resisted his impulse to flatten Ramlogan and instead went home and called the Mitsubishi finance company about the car. He was told that Ramlogan had possession of the car, and nothing could be done about it. "I don't know what Vijay told [Mitsubishi], but they believed it," Delgado says.
Delgado returned with Pompano Beach police. While Delgado had his registration and proof of insurance, Ramlogan had no record on the car. As the police tried to unravel the mess, Randolph Williams arrived. Delgado says Williams told the police that he was Ramlogan's lawyer. Williams denies this. "Williams looked at me and said, 'He is trespassing!'" Delgado says. "The police said it was a civil matter. That's their way of getting out of things."
Williams used a lien -- exactly what kind isn't clear -- and one of his special auctions to get Ramlogan a title to the car. Delgado says he never received any notice saying there would be an auction, as is required by law. In the end Delgado ran out of money to pursue his civil case and never got a dime from Ramlogan. But he did win a $3000 settlement from Mitsubishi.
Ramlogan's name or alleged business addresses pop up frequently in Williams' title applications -- more than 50 times in the past few years, according to a sampling of newspaper auction ads. Ramlogan was even listed as one of the men who abandoned Sako cars. He says he knows nothing about that.
"He might use my name, but I never did anything illegal," Ramlogan says. "Somebody is doing something wrong. I know about five or six cars that I did get title for, but if they come back and pay for the bill, I give them back their car. I am going to have to check on that now."
Ramlogan maintains to this day that he gave the Delgados a written estimate, but he has never produced it -- not to the court and not to New Times. Williams says he never saw a written estimate either and laughs at the mere mention of Ramlogan's name. "This habit of [Ramlogan's] of not giving estimates is something I don't like, and that's why I don't do shit with him anymore," says Williams.
At one hearing Judge George Brescher told a frustrated Ida Delgado that she would get a "remedy," adding, "The wheels of justice don't move as quick as you think."
In the case of Randolph Williams, they sometimes don't seem to move at all.
While the state's wheels creak along, Williams continues to title cars at breakneck speed. At his office on a recent afternoon, he sat surrounded by his legal books, among them a thick DMV manual and a thin black book unapologetically titled Tax Loopholes. He's busy -- the phone rings, and there are stacks of paperwork on several desks in the office. In the mornings he has an assistant named Ivadean Stacy, a retired Florida DMV employee, filling in his lien forms and getting his auction ads ready.
At the start of a four-hour interview -- which he granted against the advice of his attorney -- he said, "I'm not going to say anything to incriminate myself," and refused to answer many questions on those grounds. But Williams does admit that he sometimes runs ads for auctions that are incorrect, and he concedes that it's "technically" a crime, namely fraud. But he shrugs it off, not seeming to mind that this corrupts the entire process and takes out any chance for someone to get a fair shot at bidding -- including the actual owner of the car. His aim differs with the aim of the law. Williams' goal is to get the title into the hands of whoever hired him to get the title. He blames the notorious bureaucratic complications at the DMV as the real culprit and calls himself simply a "facilitator" -- a man who can cut through the clogged and inherently evil bureaucracy. "If my titles are fraudulent," he says pointedly, "then why are they still valid? Did you ever stop to think about that?"
It's true -- countless Floridians are driving around in cars titled, at one time or another, by Randolph Williams with questionable papers.
Law-enforcement officials say there are solutions to stopping title fraud artists. Les Cravens, a Miami-Dade auto-theft detective who preaches that title fraud is the key to all car crimes, says the answer is to create a standard title for all states and to tie all the state DMV computer systems together into one national database so that cars brought across state lines are easily researched.
"Anytime you take a car from out of state that's never been titled in Florida before, you can roll back the miles or eliminate [the fact that it's been totaled in a wreck]," Cravens says. "There have been bills introduced for a national titling system, but it's never happened. If they ever get off their butts and tie these systems together, you would see the auto-theft rates drop considerably, because you can't deal in stolen cars if you can't get papers for them. The odometer rollbacks would decrease drastically. But they ain't doing it."
John Tower, the FHP investigator who arrested Williams, says he has lobbied the state legislature to regulate title companies -- namely to require people who work in the business to get state licenses.
"That's the only way they'll get any control over them," he says.
Ron Wedegan, a 28-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol and president of the National Odometer and Title Fraud Enforcement Association, says another change that must be made is in the level of training for both police officers and title clerks. And he says he is currently working with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to come up with a suitable training program for the clerks, whom Williams laughs about, saying they're paid $18,000 a year and have no idea what the laws are. As for police officers, Wedegan says many of them don't understand the complex lien laws either.
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"Too often they really think it's a civil matter when it isn't," he says, adding that prosecutors around the state make the same false judgment.
That plays right into Randoph Williams' hands. But life is not all easy for Williams. He has the fraud counts to contend with, and during the New Times interview, Williams' landlord -- a real landlord -- had Williams' own car towed out of the parking lot because Williams has for months been littering the office building's lot with cars. When the landlord stopped by Williams' office, a heated debate ensued between the two men that ended shortly after Williams tried to close the door -- with his landlord still in the doorway. Then BSO deputies arrived. The landlord had filed a simple battery complaint against Williams. The deputy took a report but left without arresting Williams.
And Williams, after swearing revenge on the landlord, got back to work, hustling up titles and getting forms ready for filing with the DMV.
Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address: