Andy Stebbing arraignment

Lancaster County Treasurer Andy Stebbing (left) and his attorney, Sean Brennan, listen to the judge during his first appearance in Lancaster County Court on Friday. Stebbing is accused of falsifying motor vehicle bills of sale, filing fraudulent state income tax returns and operating as an unlicensed dealer.

Lancaster County Treasurer Andy Stebbing sold cars without a license and falsified bills of sale to help customers evade taxes, state investigators claim in court documents unsealed Friday.

In one case, a buyer claimed he gave Stebbing $1,800 cash and a Rock Island 1911 handgun in exchange for a Chevy pickup, but the bill of sale signed by Stebbing listed the purchase price at $300.

The buyer told a Nebraska State Patrol investigator that Stebbing wrote out the bill of sale and signed it, then handed it back and said, "so they don't hose you when you plate it," the investigator alleged in an affidavit filed in April but unsealed this week.

Stebbing, 53, declined to comment on the allegations Friday following his first court appearance on the five felony charges against him.

"I don't want to litigate any of this in the press," he said.

But in interviews with investigators earlier this year, Stebbing said he should have "tightened it up" and been more careful filling out the bills of sale. He also said witness accounts of the transactions were incorrect.

The Republican, a former sheriff's deputy, has been county treasurer since 2011 and unsuccessfully challenged Chris Beutler in the 2015 Lincoln mayoral election.

Several state and county officials called upon Stebbing to resign as treasurer after charges were filed against him last month, but he said Friday he will remain in office and plans to seek re-election in 2018.

“I always have emulated honesty, integrity and transparency, and as this case goes forward, I think you will see that’s still the case," he said to reporters after the hearing.

In addition to collecting property taxes to be distributed to schools, fire districts, cities, villages and other political subdivisions, the county treasurer's office manages more than 300,000 motor vehicle registrations and titles.

The charges against Stebbing include two counts of falsifying bills of sale, two counts of filing fraudulent state income taxes and one count of selling cars without a license.

While his Friday appearance in Lancaster County Court was a procedural step, documents unsealed the same day offer the first significant details on the probe into Stebbing's dealings since the Journal Star broke news of the investigation in April. 

Investigators believe Stebbing sold at least nine vehicles in 2016 and three in 2015, using Craigslist and Facebook to advertise the sales.

Under state law, anyone who sells more than eight vehicles in a 12-month period must register with the state as a dealer. Stebbing didn't.

He first caught the eye of law enforcement in October 2015 when an investigator for the Nebraska Motor Vehicle Industry Licensing Board saw him bidding on and buying vehicles at the Lincoln Auto Auction in Waverly.

The auctions generally aren't open to the general public, only dealers.

For the next 17 months, the investigator saw Stebbing at the auctions every Wednesday, and watched him bid on and purchase vehicles at least six times, Nebraska State Patrol Investigator Matt Brodecky said in an affidavit for Stebbing’s arrest.

The State Patrol became involved in August 2016 after being alerted by the motor vehicle investigator.

Searching state records and using special software to scan auto postings on Facebook and Craigslist, Brodecky and a Department of Motor Vehicles official found two cases in which Stebbing apparently failed to register vehicles he purchased, one in which he failed to pay sales taxes, and four cases where the new owners reported paying less for their vehicles than Stebbing paid for them at auction.

Brodecky tracked down several buyers who claimed they bought vehicles from Stebbing — using traceable forms of payment such as checks — and that Stebbing signed off on bills of sale listing lower purchase prices, according to the affidavit.

The purchase price of an automobile helps determine the taxes owed by the buyer.

Among the vehicles Stebbing tried to sell was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle belonging to his sister, although investigators did not raise any bill of sale issues in that case. Another buyer — who said he paid $3,200 for a pickup but was listed on the bill of sale as costing $1,000 — has worked with Stebbing's sister.

Phil Durst, the owner of Lincoln Auto Auction, sometimes allows non-dealers to attend, Stebbing told investigators. He said he received no special treatment because of his position as county treasurer and paid gate fees to enter.

Durst, who could not immediately be reached Friday, contributed money to Stebbing's treasurer campaigns in 2011 and 2014. 

Stebbing's next court date is Oct. 30.

If convicted of every charge against him, he would face up to 10 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

During Friday's hearing, Seward County Judge C. Jo Petersen allowed him to remain free as the case proceeds. Petersen is presiding over the case because Stebbing is a Lancaster County official.

She set his bond at $25,000, which he would only have to pay if he missed court.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

Reporter

Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.

Load comments