Lawsuit accuses some employees at 2 Charleston-area auto dealerships of using sham trade-ins to boost sales

A newly filed lawsuit alleges that some employees at two Charleston area auto dealerships participated in a scheme to dupe low-income buyers into purchasing vehicles they couldn't afford.

Three buyers are named in the suit, which was filed late Friday in Charleston County against Rick Hendrick Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram on Savannah Highway, Chrysler Capital LLC, Hendrick sales managers Danny Anderson and Chris Summers and Northwoods Auto Sales on Dorchester Road.

The suit alleges that the defendants falsified income statements and used fictitious trade-in vehicles to help prospective buyers qualify for purchases they couldn't afford, in violation of the state's regulatory act governing car dealers.

The suit, filed by attorneys Matthew Yelverton, Michael Timbes and Robert Varnado, seeks unspecified damages.

Kendra Jacobs, communications manager for Hendrick Automotive Group in Charlotte, said the company has been made aware of the suit but cannot comment on pending legal matters.

Bobby Strickland, owner of Northwoods Auto Sales, said the lawyers are targeting the wrong dealership, as he has had no involvement with the Hendrick group or the buyers named in the suit. "I have had no dealings at all with these people," he said.

The suit alleges that Northwoods sold or provided Hendrick Chrysler and the two named sales managers with "junkyard" titles from scrapped cars to use in sham trade-ins.

The suit alleges that the named parties hatched a scheme to help unqualified buyers fraudulently obtain financing to purchase vehicles in an effort to boost sales and income. Hendrick Chrysler lured prospective buyers with advertisements declaring "Bad Credit, Forget it!," the suit states.

The lawsuit focuses on three people who bought cars from Rick Hendrick Chrysler in West Ashley in the past year. But the plaintiffs are seeking class-action status to potentially draw from a pool of buyers who obtained credit from Chrysler Capital between Dec. 20, 2009, and the present.

The suit spells out how the alleged scheme worked in the cases of the three buyers:

Cartrinetta Marie Small of Charleston County bought a 2013 Dodge Journey truck in May from the West Ashley dealership, though she could not qualify for financing based on her credit application, the suit states. Hendrick sales representatives allegedly gave her the title for a 1984 Cadillac El Dorado to sign, then applied the fabricated trade-in toward her new vehicle, giving her a $2,000 credit that enabled the sale to go through, the suit stated.

Small, a widowed mother of five who works as a hospice nurse and makes less than $1,000 monthly, never laid eyes on the Cadillac used for her "trade-in" during the transaction, Yelverton said. "She didn't own that car, had never seen that car and didn't even know it existed," he said.

Salesmen allegedly reassured Small when she told them she could afford no more than a $300 monthly payment on her new vehicle, but she later got a bill for $612 a month, along with a yearly 26 percent interest rate on her loan, the suit states.

Estes Mincy of Colleton County and Lamar Scott Brisbane of North Charleston make similar accusations in the suit, alleging that Hendrick salesmen falsified their income on credit applications and used junkyard titles to place them in new vehicles that were beyond their means. They couldn't make the payments and their new vehicles were soon repossessed, the suit states.

"Now," Yelverton said, "whatever credit they did have is absolutely destroyed."

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.

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