Tulsa odometer fraud case hurt a lot of car buyers

Friday, August 27th 2004, 1:07 pm
By: News On 6

State investigators say it's the biggest cause of odometer fraud they've ever seen in Oklahoma.

A Tulsa car dealer named William Satterfield pleaded guilty this week to tampering with odometers on hundreds of cars, rolling some of them back tens or even hundreds of thousands of miles.

News on 6 business reporter Steve Berg says the fraud of course is bad enough, but Satterfield was also the head of the agency that "investigates" motor fraud.

Officials say William Satterfield worked his widespread and long-lived odometer scheme out of his Classic Auto office near 61st and Mingo. But it's his other job that's really ironic. It was only for one year in 1995, but he was the chairman of the State Used Motor Vehicle and Parts Commission, which investigates odometer fraud.

Ken Whitehead with the commission: "We felt like this was a black mark on the commission and we feel we've been vindicated by this investigation." All that's left of Satterfield's car lot is the lot. The building and the cars are all long gone, but over a five-year period, officials say he sold more than 400 cars with tampered odometers. “We’ve been involved in several of these investigations since 1986 and this was the largest one we've done in the state of Oklahoma."

Officials say Satterfield had a co-conspirator who did the actual handiwork. They say odometer rollbacks usually involve taking apart the instrument cluster and rolling back the odometer manually or replacing the instrument cluster completely with a used, low-mileage one from a salvage yard.

Some tips for car-buyers, check for loose screws or scratch marks around the dashboard. Check to make sure the digits in the odometer are lined up straight, especially the 10,000 digit. Test drive the car to see if the speedometer sticks. Check for service stickers inside the door or under the hood that might show the real mileage.

Unfortunately, as big as this scheme was, officials say it's probably just the tip of the iceberg. "We typically don't see as much in Oklahoma as we do in the larger, more populated states but yes it's pretty prevalent out there."

If you think you bought a car from Satterfield with a tampered odometer, you can call the US Attorney’s office in Tulsa, and you'll be put on a restitution list. But they don't know if Satterfield will ever be able to make restitution.

They say the loss to consumers might be as much as $1.5-million.