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Lawsuit says even Kia isn’t safe from this sleazy Kia dealer

When a big company gets called out by the little guy, there’s usually a cheering section for Little Mac. But what if the tables are turned and Goliath is the victim? That’s reportedly the case in a new lawsuit linking Kia America against Dan O’Brien Auto Group.

According to Automotive NewsKia filed suit in New Hampshire federal court in early May, accusing the New England dealer of reporting fraudulent sales and pocketing more than $500,000 in the process. Kia names dealer director Dan O’Brien, six stores and COO Tom Kuhn as defendants in the complaint.

In the filing, the automaker identified approximately 300 questionable retail delivery reports, but expects that number to increase during preliminary discovery. The dealerships in question were located in Norwood, Massachusetts, and the New Hampshire towns of Concord and North Hampton. All locations have now been sold.

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Dan O’Brien Auto Group is accused of deliberately falsifying retail delivery reports by failing to report chargebacks or cancellations of sales and recording a sale when none occurred. Kia claims the dealer has gone so far as to transfer vehicles back and forth between Kia and non-Kia stores to cover up irregularities.

However, on-site audits revealed the dealer was caught red-handed when more than 20 vehicles claimed to have been sold were allegedly on the premises of two retail locations. Further digging revealed an alleged “substantial discrepancy” between the new vehicles in inventory and what the stores should have had. Kia says the difference would have been greater if the dealer group had not been notified of future audits and had sold more than 100 vehicles wholesale.

The allegations certainly look bad for the Dan O’Brien dealer group. Of course, one can whine about being innocent until proven guilty. However, the company has already been accused of misleading practices towards consumers. No guilt was found in this case, which involved the same store in Concord, New Hampshire.

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In a settlement for that case, the dealer group paid a $1.25 million fine for what the state’s attorney general called “pretty egregious conduct.” The dealer was also required to hire an independent monitor and audio and video record every consumer transaction for the next five years.

The attorney general’s office had received numerous complaints about the dealer manipulating shoppers into taking out loans beyond their means, promising they could refinance after six months. The problem was that there was no such refinancing program, leaving owners with cars they couldn’t afford. The dealer also allegedly inflated buyers’ income on loan applications, submitted loan paperwork without the buyer’s consent, and submitted outright forged documents.

Kia is seeking compensatory and punitive damages under both the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state law. The filings allege “breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conspiracy, fraud, conversion and negligent misrepresentation.”

Dan O’Brien Auto Group wants the entire case dismissed because a federal judge in Massachusetts had already barred the automaker from filing RICO claims in a separate lawsuit over the termination of the dealership agreement.

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For the record, the dealer group continues to use Kia B-roll on its website even though it no longer sells Kia vehicles, with the slogan “Keepin’ It Awesome” prominently displayed. Sheesh. Is our popcorn gone yet?

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