Attorney general sues local car dealership
HUNTINGTON -- The West Virginia Attorney General has filed suit against a Huntington car dealer, claiming it misled its customers and engaged in business practices that violate the state's consumer protection act over the course of about three years.
The suit, filed Thursday, claims between 2010 and early 2013, the Attorney General's office received 22 formal complaints from customers against Downtown Used Auto Sales, located in the 1300 block of 3rd Avenue.
The complaint accuses the business and its owner, Thomas J. Matthews, of selling unsafe vehicles, citing terms and conditions in contracts of sale that violate state law or refer to statutes that don't exist, charging unlawful interest and excess fees and repossessing vehicles without giving owners notice or allowing them to make good on a defaulted payment. The suit also claims the business "discarded or converted" personal property in repossessed vehicles without giving customers reasonable time or means to claim their belongings.
Downtown Auto was open Thursday afternoon. When approached by a reporter, Matthews declined comment, deferring all questions to his attorney.
The suit is seeking full refunds in documented complaints for payments made to the business, reimbursements for any repairs the customers had to pay for, a reimbursement of up to $1,000 for each time a customer was charged with an alleged bogus contract fee, and a $5,000 civil penalty for each time the business violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
The state began investigating Downtown Auto in September 2012, after receiving numerous complaints about the business, according to the 35-page lawsuit, which is supplemented with 25 pages of alleged illegal terms and conditions regarding sales and warranties.
The Attorney General issued a subpoena of documents from the dealership in April of last year.
The business complied, but could not produce any forms proving notice of default and possible repossession. Under the state consumer protection act, customers are to be notified of default and impending repossession in writing, and are allowed 10 days after notification to rectify the situation.
According to the suit, in 85 repossessions the business conducted from the time it opened in October 2010 to the time of the subpoena, Downtown Auto never once informed a customer of impending repossession, nor did the business give the customer time to make up a defaulted payment.
The suit documents several instances in which customers bought a car from the lot, and experienced everything from mechanical to severe structural problems with a vehicle sometimes in as little as four hours after the purchase.
Also included are examples of customers who made faithful payments but had a vehicle repossessed after reporting problems to Downtown Auto that the dealership refused to correct.
The suit claims the dealership sold cars under the term "As Is," meaning the customer assumed responsibility for any problems with the vehicle after purchase, which is illegal in West Virginia.
Many times, the cars could not pass state inspection because of mechanical issues or other problems that made them unsafe, the lawuit alleges.
Company documents obtained by the Attorney General's Office also show the business charged or claimed it could charge late fees in excess of what is allowed under the consumer protection act.
Follow reporter Ben Fields on Twitter @BenFieldsHD
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