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UPDATED: Nov 9, 2012

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A Colorado car dealership is under investigation for keeping car titles away from owners.

Roadhouse Auto Center in Grand Junction, Colo. is being investigated by the Colorado Department of Revenue. Customers and employees complained to the authorities because the owner left town, without paying employees or giving owners their car titles. All that is left is a vacant property and a sign which reads “For Sale or Lease.”

“I went to go get my tags on it, and the lady at the motor vehicle said ‘we’re having trouble with the dealership,’” Steve McKay, a Roadhouse customer, said to KKCO news.

The owner of Roadhouse Auto, Tom Donat, never filed McKay’s paperwork. McKay went back to the dealership to demand an answer, when he found the empty lot and locks on the doors.

Currently, the title for McKay’s car is property of an Indiana-based company which gives loans to dealerships to buy the cars they sell. According to Roadhouse employees, the loan company was never paid, so they would not release the car titles. Roadhouse customers were paying for cars that they might never be able to legally drive, license or even own. In addition, with a title, any borrowers looking to access money will not be able to get a car title loan. A car title loan enables a borrower to offer up their car as collateral. Car title loans enable borrowers to quickly access cash. But that privilege of Roadhouse car owners is not available.

Besides the loan fees, former Roadhouse salesman Tracy Treat said Donat didn’t pay on additional fronts.

“He didn’t pay the lease on the building for a couple of months, and that was hidden from the employees, and what happened come pay roll and pay period— we didn’t get our checks,” Treat said to KKCO news.  

After Donat skipped town, Treat was left without a job, without $2,400 in previous paychecks, and without a title to his personal car.

“On a daily basis they tell you you’re doing a great job, and thank you, and appreciate everything, and the whole time he was in the background stealing from us,” Treat said.

He said there are about 22 customers now without titles. Besides not being able to apply for a car title loan, when the tags expire, they won’t be able to drive the car.

Treat predicts Donat is in Utah with his son.