For the second time in four years, the Ventura County district attorney's office has slapped two Oxnard car dealerships with a lawsuit alleging a variety of unfair-competition and false advertising violations.
Mike Wallace Ford and Mike Wallace Nissan are accused of at least 40 instances of misrepresenting the sale of rental cars as "executive, demo, program or manufacturer's cars" or charging customers for service contracts and accessories without their knowledge, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Malone.
Moreover, investigators maintain that during the past four years the two Oxnard Boulevard dealerships failed to transfer as many as 2,000 vehicle titles to customers for up to a year after the sale, she said.
In several instances, police pulled Wallace customers over for failure to have current vehicle registration or other required documents, Malone said.
"It's inconvenient to say the least," she said. "We've evidence of several customers who have had to do some explaining [to police]."
The civil complaint also contends that the dealerships violated a permanent injunction the district attorney's office obtained in 1993 stemming from a similar false advertising case.
The injunction prohibited the dealerships from engaging in further unlawful conduct.
Each false advertising or unfair-competition violation carries a maximum penalty of $2,500. Each violation of the injunction could result in a fine of up to $6,000.
"There are potentially more violations than we're aware of," Malone said. "The Department of Motor Vehicles is continuing to receive complaints, so we believe the violations are still continuing despite repeated notices to the dealerships by DMV."
The district attorney's office was planning to seek a preliminary injunction in Ventura County Superior Court aimed at stopping the dealerships from misrepresenting vehicle histories or offering any vehicle for sale until the dealer is in possession of its title.
A statement released by Clint Lininger, chief financial officer for Wallace Ford, blamed a November 1996 arson fire that caused $2.5 million in damage for the dealerships' problems.
"We are sure everyone can understand that the devastating fire we suffered late in 1996 has caused significant difficulties for our record keeping, which we are still working to correct," the statement reads in part. "We enjoy a long history of doing business in Ventura County and have thousands of satisfied customers. If there are in fact areas of the past that need to be corrected, we will as always fully cooperate."
In 1993, without admitting any wrongdoing, the two dealerships agreed to pay $30,000 in penalties to settle a district attorney's lawsuit alleging false advertising claims that included promising customers they would not be turned down for financing even if they had bad credit.
In addition, the dealerships each paid state fines of almost $6,000 in connection with the same complaint.
The latest suit seeks civil penalties, restitution to customers, reimbursement of costs and a permanent injunction.
Wallace customers wishing to register a complaint may call the district attorney's office at 654-3110.