City of Jacksonville hands over wrong fire truck

Tampa businesswoman tells I-TEAM she wants vehicle she paid for

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Tampa businesswoman contacted the I-TEAM after a major mix-up by the city of Jacksonville. The city sold Mattie Herndon a used 2004 Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department fire truck through a government auction website for more than $10,000. The city gave her the right title, but the wrong truck, and refuses to right the wrong.

When the I-TEAM met with Herndon in Tampa, she showed us the title she was given, which clearly says she was sold a 2004 used JFRD fire truck labeled as #8746. 

"But this is the '02 truck and on the back of it is #8649," Herndon showed us.

Herndon won the government auction on GovDeals.com last September, a site she has purchased used city equipment from before. She refurbishes and resells fire trucks, which is why she looking forward to flipping a 2004 model for a profit.  She had a buyer all lined up.

"I was excited. I thought I had a 2004 truck and when I found out I didn't, it became a restless night, a headache," Herndon said.

Approximately 10 days after Herndon paid a transporter to drive the truck from Jacksonville to Tampa, she realized the VIN didn't match. When she contacted the city of Jacksonville to explain the apparent mix-up, she says she was told the truck she actually paid for was no longer available, that it was on the road somewhere in Jacksonville. 

"She basically told me that she was really, really sorry, that she really, really messed up, that I was not going to get my truck back, they put it back into service, no one communicated up there," Herndon explained.

She says the city did offer her a little more than $1,500 for their major mistake, which is the difference the city calculated in value between the 2002 she received and the 2004 she paid for. But it's a deal that Herndon tells us she has no intention of taking. She wants what she bought.

"I sure would like to find my truck, the truck I paid for, the truck I have the title for," said Herndon.

Back in Jacksonville, the I-TEAM set out to find Herndon's correct 2004 fire truck -- #8746. While we found nothing at the Jacksonville Procurement Office, which oversees items up for auction, right around the corner we found it in the city's Fleet Services parking lot.

But, looking through the gate, we noticed what appeared to be a large leak coming from the rear of truck #8746. And, all the compartments on the truck were left open revealing parts of the truck may have been removed.

We contacted Jacksonville City Hall for an interview, but Marsha Oliver, the city's director of public affairs Marsha Oliver, issued this statement instead:

This buyer is no stranger to us, and has successfully completed about 10 transactions with the City of Jacksonville. This one incident is unfortunate and we regret it; however, it does not reflect the more than 600 transactions we conducted last year.  Upon learning of Ms. Herndon’s discovery last fall, the City of Jacksonville investigated and confirmed that an error was made in the sale and transfer of a ladder truck vehicle, and has since strengthened our release processes.  When picked-up by Ms. Herndon’s transporter, vehicle identification numbers were not verified, leading to the removal of an incorrect vehicle. Since that time, the 2004 truck originally listed and purchased on GovDeals has been surplused with parts removed for repairs and replacements. While Ms. Herndon has expressed to us her continued interest in the 2004 truck, it is not available in its original condition. As a result, the city’s Division of Procurement maintains the original offer it made to Ms. Herndon many months ago which included the difference in values of the two trucks ($1,525). There have been repeated attempts to reach Ms. Herndon over the past several months and messages left to resolve this. The office has also offered Ms. Herndon a full refund of the cost she paid for the ladder truck vehicle as well as incurring any expenses to transport it back to Jacksonville. We maintain our interest in communicating with her on a resolution.”

Herndon claims the city is trying to bully her into taking $1,525 difference in price for the two fire trucks, and tells the I-TEAM she is willing to take her fight to court to get the correct fire truck she paid for.

Jacksonville attorney John Phillips, who is not associated with this case, says this is a court fight Herndon could win.

"We're in an eBay-type world. This is a government property version of eBay. And, when you buy something you expect to get it and not for the terms to change along the way. The city of Jacksonville owes her the truck as it was the day that she bought it. The fact that they did damage to her truck they owe her to fix that damage in full," explained Phillips.

Herndon says since she had a buyer lined up for that specific 2004 fire truck, and because she didn't get it, that deal has fallen through. So, she's personally out the more than $10,000 she paid to the city. In addition, she had to pay out of her own pocket to have the truck brought to Tampa from Jacksonville and then pay to have it detailed -- all before realizing she was given the wrong vehicle. She wants all of the money she spent reimbursed.

Herndon told the I-TEAM the city of Jacksonville has asked her multiple times for her to return the title of the truck because the title she has goes with fire truck #8746 -- which is the one still in the possession of the city. She said she won't return it until the city makes what she considers to be a reasonable offer. If not, she says she'll consider taking legal action.

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