- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - Ohio State football players did not receive improper deals when buying cars from two Columbus-area dealerships, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles said Tuesday following an investigation of 25 vehicle sales.

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.

The scandal forced out coach Jim Tressel because he knew of the memorabilia sales for months without alerting Ohio State officials, in violation of his contract.

The Ohio BMV undertook its review following allegations that the dealerships sold vehicles to Ohio State athletes and family members at below market rates.

The BMV’s 65-page report issued Tuesday said the certificates of titles for cars sold by Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct to players and families accurately reflected the vehicles’ sales prices.

The investigation also rejected allegations that the sales prices did not reflect the true cost of the vehicles because players provided dealers with tickets, jerseys and other memorabilia in place of cash.

“We found no evidence in the dealers’ business records that tickets and/or sports memorabilia were included in the sales,” the report said.

The dealers and their lawyers also said the allegations were false. Aaron Kniffin, the salesman who sold most of the vehicles at both dealerships, also denied the allegations in a sworn affidavit that was previously made public, according to Tuesday’s report.

“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,” Kniffin said in that 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 university said at this point it has no reason to believe any student athletes received improper car purchases.

“Today’s report from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles supports the sworn statements two Columbus auto dealers provided us that the manner in which they conducted sales with Ohio State student athletes adhered to university and NCAA rules,” said Doug Archie, Ohio State’s athletics compliance director.

The investigation found that Auto Direct made money on the 10 vehicles it sold to players and families and that 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.

The 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.

Messages were left for Mauk and Auto Direct owner Jason Goss seeking comment.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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