Mauri Peyton, owner of Big Country Ford Lincoln Mercury, said everything seemed proper when a woman traded in a vehicle on May 27 at the dealership.
When he learned there was a divorce dispute and a possible forgery issue related to the trade-in vehicle’s title, Peyton believed it was a civil matter that did not involve his dealership.
A few days later, Peyton, 48, found himself in handcuffs and on his way to jail in a Brownwood police car. He was arrested on an evidence tampering charge and released on $10,000 bond.
Peyton said he believes he did nothing wrong. Speaking in an interview at the dealership Wednesday, Peyton disputed the allegations in complaint filed by police Sgt. Troy Carroll in Justice of the Peace Jim Cavanaugh’s office. The complaint alleges that Peyton hid the 2003 Ford Expedition that had been traded in “with intent to impair its availability” as evidence in a criminal investigation.
Peyton said he hadn’t tried to hide anything. “I’m just trying to do business,” Peyton said. “I’m not trying to take anything that’s not mine. … I try to do the right thing every time.”
Carroll said he can’t comment beyond what’s in court documents — the complaint he filed and his application for a seizure warrant, which ultimately led to the vehicle being parked at the Brownwood Police Department, where it remains.
According to the court documents, Carroll went to the dealership on June 3. He told Peyton that the Expedition parked at the dealership had been acquired by a woman named Kelly Athans on a forged application title. Carroll told Peyton to maintain possession of the Expedition, and also told Peyton he intended to take it.
Peyton said he wouldn’t release it without a judge’s signature. Carroll told Peyton he’d be back with a seizure warrant, according to court documents.
When Carroll returned the next day, Carroll alleged, Peyton told him the Expedition had been sold at an auction in Dallas.
“That’s not what happened,” Carroll said.
He said he did tell Carroll on June 3 that he wouldn’t release the vehicle without a judge’s signature. He said his attorney told him not to release the vehicle without a court order.
“It isn’t evidence,” he said he contended with Carroll. “I can’t give you this back. But if you have some kind of court order, I’ll be happy to give it to you.”
But Carroll never told him to keep the vehicle there, nor did Carroll say he would return with a judge’s signature, Peyton said.
Carroll left in a huff, Peyton said, and did return the next day with a seizure warrant. And it was true, the Expedition wasn’t there. It was in Dallas and it was parked outside an auction — but not with the intent of being sold, Peyton said.
He said Expedition had been used to shuttle several other people to an auction so they could return with vehicles bought there. The Expedition was used because it was available, parked in the back, and the person who took was unaware of any legal issues with the vehicle.
Peyton said he did tell Carroll that the Expedition was at an auction in Dallas. He said he never told Carroll it was there to be sold and if Carroll believed that, Carroll misunderstood.
He said the vehicle was not for sale and “sitting up there waiting for us to go get it next time we get up there.”
He told Carroll that Carroll would either have to go get the vehicle or wait for him to go get it.
“He said ‘I should arrest you,’” Peyton said. “I said ‘arrest me for what?’ Nobody told me to keep the truck here.
“He leaves and comes back and he says ‘your under arrest.’ I said ‘for what?’ He said ‘I have a complaint here … tampering with evidence.
“ … There were police cars everywhere. It was crazy. It was like I was most wanted or fugitive or something. It was crazy.
“Then they told me it was a felony. I’ve never been in jail my whole live. I’m blown away by all this stuff.”
The fallout from the Expedition stemmed from the pending divorce of a Harris County couple, Mark and Kelly Athans. Mark Athans had a Harris County court order directing Kelly Athans to turn the vehicle over to him, according to testimony Tuesday in a property hearing in Cavanaugh’s court.
Mark Athans claimed that Kelly Athans had no right to the vehicle when she traded it in on a 2007 Ford Mustang on May 27, according to testimony.
But Peyton and his sales staff had no knowledge of any of that on May 27, Peyton said. He said he knew there was a dispute when Mark Athans called him a few days later. Peyton said he spoke with Athans’ attorney and believed the matter had been settled.
Peyton said he thought he’d done everything he was supposed to until Carroll showed up.
“(Carroll) has made this giant deal out of the divorce case that I have nothing to do with,” Peyton said. “I just think I made (Carroll) mad and all this is because I made him upset.
“ … This is a divorce fight. This isn’t Big Country’s problem. I’m sorry I’m in the middle of it and I’m sorry my sore’s in the middle of it. I can’t believe it has gone this far. I am totally blown away by this thing. This could have been handled in a billion different ways.”