There’s something not quite right in this parking lot in Silver Spring.
Cars lined up in a row.
But do you see what’s missing?
No license plate.
It’s the hint that sent the News4 I-Team undercover.
We sent our producer to test drive this 1991 Lexus after we found it “For Sale by Owner” on Craigslist. 160,000 miles. $2,500.
But we quickly discovered the seller had other cars available. He tells our producer “he’s going to be selling the minivan” parked right next to the Lexus. The seller shows our producer even more vehicles on his cell phone.
In Maryland, anyone who sells more than three cars in a year must have a dealer’s license. Otherwise, it's called “curbstoning” -- against the law because experts say it's risky.
"We feel like if we have to comply with the law, everybody should," says Jack Fitzgerald. The Chairman of Fitzgerald Automalls, he’s been in the new and used car business for almost 50 years.
Fitzgerald says legit dealers spend thousands to meet government regulations, including bonding, insurance and taxes. "All of those laws and regulations are there to protect consumers."
For months the News4 I-Team watched as more and more cars showed up on Craigslist and in this parking lot. They all list the same cell phone of a man who gave us a couple of different names when he tried to sell us the Lexus.
His real name is Blake Keller.
Eric Friedman with Montgomery County Consumer Protection says police already shut Keller down once for doing the same thing in a grocery store parking lot, but didn’t bring charges at that time.
Friedman says, "We have records that show he's obtained at least 25 to 30 vehicles and sells them on Craigslist."
We watched Keller use a North Carolina dealer’s tag on the cars he tried to sell us.
The I-Team found he does have a North Carolina wholesale license which gives his permission to buy cars from auctions around the country. It does not allow him to sell cars in Maryland, where the Motor Vehicle Administration confirmed Keller is not licensed to sell cars.
Blake Keller: “I don’t sell cars in Maryland.”
Tisha Thompson: “You say you don’t sell cars in Maryland?”
Blake Keller: “No, I didn’t say that. I said I don’t sell any cars in Maryland.”
But Keller tried to sell us two more cars through Craigslist when he showed this 2001 Cadillac and this 1999 Saab to NEWS4 employees. In all, he attempted to sell us four cars -- more than the legal limit.
Tisha Thompson: “We watched you try to sell that car.
Blake Keller: “But these people are wholesalers.”
Tisha Thompson: “No, they're not. They're employees with Channel 4."
“The cars are typically junk,” says John Creel.
Creel has spent 30 years shutting down curbstoners in Montgomery County and says the real concern is safety. "There's no way to tell unless this thing is thoroughly inspected prior to sale that you're not buying something dangerous."
Tisha Thompson: “Are these cars safe to drive?”
Blake Keller: “Oh yeah.”
Tisha Thompson: “How do you know?”
Blake Keller: “Because I've driven them.”
Tisha Thompson: “Have they been inspected? Do they meet Maryland inspection?”
Blake Keller: “They probably will. A lot of them have been inspected. They're safe cars."
Friedman disagrees. “We’ve talked to a lot of these consumers” who bought Keller’s cars, he says. “They've said to us, ‘The cars are not running anymore. I've had difficulty getting the cars through inspection.’"
Friedman estimates as many as 80 percent of online classified ads are listed by curbstoners.
Friedman says he’s now meeting with county prosecutors, the MVA and the police to figure out a way to shut Keller down for good.
"I'm not a back alley salesman," Keller insists. He promised to show us his license. So, we waited for him to run home and bring it back to the parking lot.
But Keller returned empty-handed insisting, “What I’m doing is not illegal.”