PHOENIX - Every day, for nearly a year, Ramiro Lopez, Jr. followed a tedious routine to get his 2005 Dodge truck out of his driveway to drive it to work.
Every morning, he'd wedge his truck in behind two other cars and a fence in front of his house. So, every morning, he'd have to start up two cars, back one out and then his, to get to his truck.
When he'd get home, he'd do it all over again. All so he could keep his beloved truck blocked in.
He even bought a GPS tracking system and alarm – all because he was afraid that what he says happened last summer will happen again.
Lopez said it was after midnight one night last summer when he heard some strange noises outside his house.
"I [hear] the dogs bark," he said. He went outside. "It was three tow trucks!"
They were hooking up and starting to tow away his brand new Dodge truck.
"I came out and just went after them," he said. "I thought they were stealing it!"
He called police. He says he showed them his title and the driver had to leave his truck.
But, for Lopez, that was just the beginning.
"The day after," he said, "I hid it."
AN UNPAID LOAN
Lopez says it was a title loan company called Tio Rico Te Ayuda Financial Services (or Auto Now Financial Services) that tried to repossess his truck that night.
Tio Rico had a lien out on the truck due to an unpaid loan taken out by a previous owner.
The only problem was Lopez had a clean title to the truck, which he had bought from a different owner off Craigslist. There were no liens on his title.
"I mean, I don't owe anything," Lopez said. "That truck's paid off – paid cash! All my savings went towards buying it," he said.
Lopez filed a complaint about the repo attempt with the state and kept hiding his truck. After receiving Tio Rico's response to his complaint, which requested that "the vehicle be seized and a hold be placed on the title until this matter is resolved," Lopez also hired an attorney.
"It's a lot of work for something I don't owe," he said.
Tio Rico and their attorney said they never tried to repossess Lopez's truck after the first time in June, 2012, but the company told ABC15 that Lopez bought the truck without a title and that "someone fraudulently removed their lien."
Tio Rico gave us documents showing that another man had taken out an approximately $4,500 loan on the truck in 2011. And they showed us a record from MVD stating they had a lien on the truck.
THE STATE GETS INVOLVED
So, we brought the case to Harold Sanders with the state Motor Vehicle Division of the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The first thing Sanders found about Lopez's title to the truck was simple: "The title he possesses is valid and he is the owner of the vehicle," Sanders said.
Sanders dug deeper and found that Tio Rico did have a lien on the truck, but, after it changed hands a few times, the man who sold it to Lopez applied for a new title for it.
When that happens, Sanders said, "We are required to notify anybody who has interest in the vehicle" and tell them that the application for a new title has been submitted. That way they have a chance to object.
Sanders says MVD sent a notice to Tio Rico, the lienholder, and the previous owner of the truck. Each had 30 days to respond before the new title would go through.
"We did not receive a response from either," Sanders said.
So, MVD says Tio Rico missed their chance to stake a claim on the truck, and Lopez got a clean title when he bought it.
In fact, Sanders said, if Tio Rico did try to repossess the truck again, "It would be a theft of the vehicle, at that point."
In a statement, Tio Rico's attorney said the company "…has not engaged in any manner, since the July attempted repossession (before we knew Ramiro had a title in his name), to remove his vehicle from him in a manner of repossession."
Lopez was glad for the assurance – and he's no longer hiding his truck.
Tio Rico's lawyer also said that the company is the real victim here, since they issued a loan to the previous owner and never received repayment for it. In fact, the company's attorney said the Electronic Lien and Title system they use, Vintek, still shows that they are the valid lienholders on Lopez's truck – even if MVD doesn't.
Vintek is an MVD-approved Electronic Lien and Title service.