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Ohio State drops review of car purchases

June 22, 2011

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio State University on Tuesday dropped its review of car purchases by football players and family members after two separate investigations found dealerships made money on almost all of the sales.
The university made its decision in light of a report by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and a separate review by the Ohio Independent Automobile Dealers Association.
"We have seen no evidence that would lead us to believe that Ohio State student athletes violated any policies when purchasing used cars," said university spokesman Jim Lynch.
The reviews were launched after questions about players' car purchases arose in the wake of a scandal in which some players received cash and tattoos for autographs, championship rings and equipment.
In a 65-page report issued Tuesday, the state BMV said two Columbus-area dealerships made money on 24 of 25 sales made to players and family members.
The BMV, however, did not interview Ohio State players or officials and did not examine records of financial transactions that players file with the university's athletic compliance office. The report also did not address whether players received discounts not available to the public. Such a discount could be an NCAA violation.
Jason Goss, owner of Columbus-dealership Auto Direct, said Tuesday that players who bought cars from him did not receive discounts not available to the public.
"Absolutely not," he said.
"I know what was in our deals. I know what we sold the cars for and what we paid for the cars," Goss said. "What we made was a normal profit that we would make on any customer that would come here."
In its report, the BMV said the certificates of titles for 25 vehicle sales by Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct to Ohio State players and their families accurately reflected the vehicles' sales prices.
According to the report, Auto Direct made money on the 10 vehicles it sold to players and their families and Jack Maxton made money on 14 of 15 sales; one vehicle was sold at a loss because it had been on the lot longer than 150 days.
A BMV investigator found vehicles bought at Auto Direct were sold for an average of $2,000 over their wholesale purchase prices, the report said.
Auto Direct owner Jason Goss told an investigator "he is not in the business to sell vehicles at a loss and has never discounted the price of vehicle in lieu of sports memorabilia or anything related to O.S.U. athletics."
The BMV investigation found no evidence that tickets and/or sports memorabilia were included in the sales.
"The deals that I did for Ohio State student-athletes were no different than any of the other 10,000-plus deals that I've done for all my other customers," said Aaron Kniffin, the salesman who sold most of the vehicles at both dealerships, in a May 10 affidavit.
Kniffin said any sales involving Ohio State players were forwarded to the general manager, who contacted Ohio State's compliance office.
The review by the independent auto dealers association of Auto Direct sales found no evidence of improper titling or sales tax calculations and said the paperwork on all sales complied with state and federal laws.
All vehicles were sold at fair market value and profit margins were consistent with the company's average profit per unit and the national average for used car dealers, James Mitchell, OIADA executive director, said in a May 18 letter to Goss released Tuesday by Ohio State.
There "was no preferential treatment," Mitchell wrote.
Ohio State President Gordon Gee said Tuesday the BMV's findings weren't surprising.
"The university has a very strong compliance system," he said. "We have always tried to make certain that we are on solid ground on these issues."
Gee added: "That doesn't mean to say we're not going to be surprised once in a while."
A lawyer for former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor said the BMV report confirms Pryor never received special treatment in his dealings with Auto Direct, which included a repair on one of Pryor's cars and a $11,435 purchase of a 2007 Nissan by Pryor's mother.
"There has been no testimony from any credible source that any OSU Student Athlete received special benefits beyond those that any customer received in having their car repaired or in considering the purchase of a vehicle," attorney Larry James wrote in a memo Tuesday to Doug Archie, Ohio State's athletics compliance director.
Pryor was one of five players suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for taking money and tattoos from local tattoo-parlor owner Edward Rife, who signed an agreement in May to plead guilty to federal drug trafficking and money-laundering charges.
Pryor announced earlier this month he wouldn't return for his senior year. He is now aiming to be selected in the NFL's supplemental draft this summer.
The BMV report also addressed what it called "persistent allegations" that Ohio State athletes and coaches have been allowed to drive dealer-owned cars using dealer license plates.
That practice is not illegal and is allowed under BMV rules, the agency said.
"On the contrary, the statute that governs the use of dealer-plated vehicles by third parties expressly permits dealers to allow any member of the public to operate dealer-owned vehicles," the agency said in its report.
In a May 12 interview with the Ohio Inspector General, Kniffin said Jeff Mauk, owner of Jack Maxton Chevrolet, received tickets from Ohio State coaches for giving them cars to drive. Kniffin said that was a common practice, according to the interview included in the BMV report.
A message was left for Mauk seeking comment.

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