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$25 Million Sought in Toyota Suit : Litigation: A former dealer claims the company refused to sell him enough cars to meet demand.


Richard Crimeni got in on the ground floor of Toyota's expansion in the United States when he bought Burbank Toyota back in 1972. But unlike some Toyota dealers from the early days, Crimeni says he didn't get rich. In fact, he claims, after he sold his dealership in 1988 and paid off his debts, he didn't have a penny left.

"I should have walked away from there a multimillionaire," Crimeni said. But instead of living the easy life, Crimeni now works at his son's car leasing and sales operation in Burbank.

Crimeni contends that's the fault of Toyota's U.S. importing and distributing arms, Toyota Motor Sales USA and Toyota Motor Distributors in Torrance. So last month he filed twin suits, one in Superior Court in Burbank and one in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeking $25 million in damages from Toyota. He claimed Toyota never allotted enough cars to his dealership for it to be profitable, and then kept him from selling the outfit to the highest bidder.

Toyota spokeswoman Mindy Geller said the auto maker had not yet been served with the suit and thus declined comment.

It's not the only time Toyota has been sued by an American businessman who sold Toyota cars for many years.

Mid-Atlantic Toyota Distributors, a Maryland-based company that sold Toyotas to dealers, sued Toyota in an attempt to block Toyota from taking over the company, which was owned by Frederick R. Weisman. But Mid-Atlantic, which had distributed Toyotas for 20 years and had $1.2 billion in sales in 1989, settled the suit last week and agreed to the takeover.

Crimeni, who previously sold Fords for more than 20 years--eventually as owner of a Ford dealership in Burbank--said he bought Burbank Toyota in 1972.

But from the start, "Toyota consistently failed and refused to deliver sufficient vehicles" to Crimeni to make his dealership profitable, even though Crimeni "repeatedly requested the allocation of a greater number of passenger cars," his lawsuit claims.

Crimeni contended that even though his business was not making money, he thought he could resolve his problems with Toyota and therefore did not begin selling another auto maker's vehicles.

Eventually, when Crimeni's dealership agreement was about to expire in 1987, Toyota told him it would not sign another agreement with him, according to the suit. But when Crimeni lined up a group--including his general manager--to buy the dealership for $1.7 million, Toyota vetoed the deal without explanation, the suit said.

Crimeni said Toyota extended his dealership agreement, but only for a year.

According to his lawsuit, Toyota proceeded to reject another buyer who had offered $1.4 million for the dealership. The suit contends that Toyota assigned another buyer for Burbank Toyota--one who allegedly paid about $1.15 million for the dealership.

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