Monday, June 16, 2008

State sues auto-leasing company

Grove City business accused of bilking consumers, dealerships

By: Tracy Turner


Each night when he goes to bed, Steve Simonetti has no idea whether his Acura TL will be in the driveway the next day.

The Dublin resident is stuck in the middle of a legal tug of war between National Automobile Leasing Group, from which he bought the car, and the dealership that provided the car to National Automobile.

The Grove City leasing company won't give him the car's title, nor will it pay the dealership for the car. And the dealership wants its car back.

The dispute and others like it have attracted the attention of the Ohio attorney general's office, which filed suit yesterday against National Automobile, accusing it of consumer fraud for not turning over the titles when selling at least 40 cars.

National Automobile serves as an intermediary between car buyers and dealerships. The attorney general's office said the company accepted cars from dealerships, pocketed the loan money from consumers and returned the title to the dealership. Consumers were left with cars but no title, and dealerships were left with titles but no car.

"This company was buying new cars and selling them as new cars to consumers," said Rosemary E. Rupert, assistant attorney general in the consumer protection section. "They never paid (the dealers), in effect putting out the business they got the car from and the consumer as well."

The lawsuit is aimed at stopping National Automobile from the practice and getting consumers titles to their cars.

National Automobile officials did not return calls seeking comment.

But the attorney general's legal action isn't stopping with the Grove City company. It also is suing two of the car dealerships and one financing company, Rupert said. The suit accuses Hugh White Honda and Lindsey Acura of accepting the titles from National Automobile after the cars were sold to consumers.

In addition, the Franklin County School Employees Federal Credit Union is being sued for financing the cars without checking whether a lien existed on the vehicles, she said.

"Here we have consumers with cars they can't drive because they can't get plates for that car because of the title issues, leaving consumers making loan payments for cars they can't drive," Rupert said. "It's unconscionable."

Meanwhile, Steve Lindsey, of Lindsey Acura, questions why his dealership is being sued when it "did nothing wrong."

"NAL took a car from us and several other dealerships and never paid us for the car," Lindsey said. "We still have title to the car because we never got paid. It just doesn't make sense. All we wanted was our car back."

Don Smith, general manager of Hugh White Honda, agrees. He said his company is facing a loss of $160,000 for six cars National Automobile took from it without paying. Smith said his dealership sought help from the attorney general but instead is being sued.

"They said they'd help us put NAL in jail, but instead, they are dragging their feet," Smith said. He blamed the recent change of leadership in the attorney general's office for the situation.

"With the mess they have going on over there, they want me to give up six car titles with no payment."

The credit union's leader, Jodi Henricks, is likewise upset that her organization has been sued. She disputes the allegations and said the credit union will vigorously defend itself.

Until all this is settled, Simonetti has to jump through hoops every 30 days to get the attorney general's office to call the motor-vehicle department to authorize new temporary tags so he can drive his car.

It's been stressful, he said.

"I got a call from Lindsey saying they want their car back, so I'm left wondering, do I need to hide my car even though I pay for it every month?" Simonetti said. "It's been a big problem, a major inconvenience and nerve-racking not knowing what will happen.

"For the last eight months, I've paid $10.50 each month for the temporary tags to keep driving my car. What am I supposed to do?"


Tags: Automotive Finance F&I Finance & Insurance
Credit Repair

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