23 Used-Car Dealerships Closed in Citywide Crackdown

By David Betancourt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The District is closing 23 used-car dealerships and plans to terminate the licenses of 303 salespeople, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said yesterday. The dealerships, he said, were nothing more than glorified storage facilities that had nothing to do with selling cars.

Two weeks ago, the city closed three other lots.

Fenty (D), accompanied by Acting Attorney General Peter J. Nickles and several other city officials, made his announcement outside Citi Motors on Bladensburg Road NE. The mayor pointed to the car lot behind him and said such places offer no benefit to the city.

"The neighborhoods and commercial corridors of the District will no longer be dumping grounds for dangerous vehicles that, according to our findings, were never intended to be sold in the District," Fenty said.

"These are not used-car lots," Nickles added. "These are storage grounds to illegally store vehicles that are being sold elsewhere. These places have no sales activity, no sales records and are storing automobiles illegally."

Many of the vehicles appeared to have been purchased outside the District and were being stored in the city before being shipped to other locations, possibly even internationally, Nickles said.

"We are no longer going to be a parking lot for these dealers," Nickles said.

But Alex Akinola, owner of Citi Motors, said he was unaware of any illegal activity at his dealership.

"We have not made any violations here. We have sales records," said Akinola, adding that he would be turning over his documentation to his attorney.

Linda K. Argo, director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said that many licensed dealers in the District have never sold a vehicle.

During the news conference, city tow trucks were lined up along Bladensburg Road, prepared to tow the two dozen vehicles on the Citi Motors lot.

According to an administrative order, Citi Motors' business license was suspended yesterday for unlawful commercial storage of motor vehicles. The order also stated that although Citi was licensed to operate as a retail dealership, none of the two dozen vehicles on the property was offered for sale to the public.

Citi Motors has three days to request a post-suspension due process hearing. This month, DCRA twice tried to determine whether Citi Motors had any record of vehicle sales on its property, according to the administrative order. Both times, the order reported, the agency came away with nothing, despite claims from the owner that there were records of transactions.

Other properties closed yesterday were said to have dangerous building conditions, many operating out of trailers that were not in top condition.

Sammy Agbaosi, owner of Sammy Auto Sales, who also stored cars on the Citi Motors lot, said he was unaware of any violations involving him or Citi Motors.

"We have been taking cars to auctions in D.C. and Maryland," Agbaosi said. "I know I'm not doing anything wrong."

DCRA investigated 106 locations, and of those, only one was found to be operating within city laws, according to the mayor's office. Fifty-one locations appeared to be nonoperational. Abandoned vehicles and "dangerous vehicles" -- those considered unsafe to drive -- were also an issue, the city said.

"This is a part of a greater overall strategy to improve life in the District," Fenty said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company