Phoenix auto dealership closed after owners admit fraud – azcentral.com
The owners of a Phoenix used car dealership are permanently out of business after they admitted defrauding poor and desperate customers who couldn’t qualify for traditional auto loans.
Gina and Joseph Colombo, owners and operators of Uncle Joe’s Auto Sales, 2520 E. Bell Road, have agreed to pay $70,000 in restitution and at least $30,000 in penalties and attorneys fees to settle a consumer fraud lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
They also are banned from owning, operating or managing another motor-vehicle sales or finance business in Arizona.
The Colombos admitted luring customers to the dealership with false advertisements, misrepresenting the condition of cars, overcharging on license and registration fees, using bogus contracts, refusing to return downpayments on cars they didn’t sell and failing to honor warranties.
Uncle Joe’s catered to customers with poor credit histories and who didn’t speak English. In the eight months it was in business, the company racked up dozens of consumer complaints, including 30 with the Attorney General’s Office.
“This dealership targeted Arizona families with no credit or poor credit, charging them outrageous fees,” Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement this week. “Buying a car is a major investment for most families and this office will continue to take a tough stance against used car scams and auto dealer fraud.”
The Colombos did not respond to interview requests on Tuesday.
Kelly Tinley said she was among the customers scammed by the dealership. She said she lost $1,000 and a truck that she traded in for a new car after the business falsified a contract.
She said Uncle Joe’s accused her of failing to make payments on time and repossessed the car based on a contract she never signed.
Tinley said she went to Uncle Joe’s after seeing an advertisement on Craigslist. She said she made a verbal agreement with a salesman to trade her old truck for $1,000 and purchase a car for an additional $1,500, which she had 30 days to pay off.
Tinley said she paid $1,000 on the first day she visited the dealership and picked up her new car two days later.
Tinley said the cooling fan on the car was broken and the dealership agreed to replace it free of charge. She said it took eight days before the replacement fan arrived. She said the company officials arranged to have the car towed back to the dealership for the repair.
Tinley said the tow company never showed up. Two days later, Tinley woke to find her new car was gone. She said she thought it had been stolen.
“I still was so naive,” she said. “I was like, ‘Why would (the dealership) have my car?’”
Tinley contacted the dealership and found the company had repossessed her car. She said representatives told her she had violated the terms of a written contract she had never seen.
“They never gave me any paperwork,” she said.
Tinley, who said she was unable to get her car back, filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General’s Office.
Consumer protection websites such as the Better Business Bureau are replete with complaints about Uncle Joe’s. A July 2014, post on Yelp.com accused the dealership of promising to fix an emissions problem on a car it sold.
“I bought a car June 27th and never drove it off the lot,” the unnamed poster wrote. “It needed to go through emissions (fine time to say something). After it failed I wanted a refund!! They said it takes 7-10 business days, now it’s July 23rd and I still don’t have my refund or a car! I have to sleep at my job In order to make it on time … this place has ruined my life.”
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the Colombos frequently baited customers through Craigslist advertisements as “a ploy to get consumers to come and look at other available motor vehicles on their lot.”
Prosecutors said in consumer fraud lawsuit the Colombos convinced costumers to buy vehicles with promises to make repairs that were never completed. The lawsuit also accused them of overcharging customers hundreds of dollars in license, filing, registration and other fees.
For example, the lawsuit said the Colombos charged customers up to $495 for title to vehicles, even though the actual cost was $4.
Corporation and court records show Gina Colombo, 41, was the registered owner of Front Line Auto Auction, which did business as Uncle Joe’s. Her husband, Joseph Colombo, 42, was the general manager.
Records show they also operated businesses called Uncle Joe’s Auto Consignment Shop, Bell Auto Collision and Charity Auto Club.
Public records show the Colombos moved to Peoria about five years ago from Palm Beach, Fla, where Gina Colombo was a licensed real estate agent.
Joe Colombo previously went by the name Joe Carrecia and was convicted of burglary in 2002, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
The Colombos filed jointly for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2011, asking the court to liquidate their debts. Gina Colombo had previously filed an individual Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1998, court records show.
The Colombos surrendered their Arizona license to sell motor vehicles in February. They also were licensed as a sales and finance company. The Attorney General’s Office filed its consumer-fraud lawsuit against the Colombos in March.
In addition to $70,000 in restitution, the Colombos will pay $360,000 in civil penalties and $5,000 in attorneys fees under the terms of the settlement. The Attorney General’s Office agreed to waive $335,000 if the Colombos don’t default on a $500 per month payment plan over the next 60 months.
Restitution might be available to additional Uncle Joe’s customers who file a complaint before Feb. 15. Consumers can contact the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in Phoenix at 602-542-5763, in Tucson at 520-628-6504, or outside the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas at 1-800-352-8431.