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Auto Mall shut down

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Complaints, lawsuits piling up after city's lone remaining new-car dealership closes its doors

By Ben Carlson

When Tommy McAdams purchased his 2010 Ford Escape earlier this year, he never dreamed that by the middle of March he still wouldn’t have legal title to the vehicle.

McAdams apparently isn’t alone. Similar complaints, including some potentially criminal, have been pouring in since Bill Waits Auto Mall closed its doors last Tuesday night, leaving some of its customers in a lurch and Anderson County without a new-car dealership for the first time in decades.

McAdams says he traded in his Jeep for a new Ford in January, and had trouble with the deal almost from the start.

He claims the financing for the new vehicle was approved, but when he went in to sign the documents, he was told that the original lender would only fund a portion of the loan. He claims the dealership then told him that another lender would cover the loan, but that his payment would be higher despite what he called his perfect credit.

“I was tired of being hassled, so I said the heck with it,” McAdams said last Friday afternoon. “I said that’s fine, but I won’t be back.”

But when the bank that had financed his trade-in started calling and telling him that loan was past due, back into the dealership he went.

“I got a statement from [my bank] that showed my old vehicle hadn’t been paid off,” he said. “I went back in there and asked them what was going on.”

McAdams became frustrated and demanded his old vehicle back, but claims he was told that the Jeep had already been sold.

“That’s what they said, but the next day I saw it right there on the lot,” he said.

He said about a month later, the Jeep loan had been paid off. But when he went to purchase license plates for his new vehicle, he was denied because the sales tax had not been paid.

“It shows on our documents where the bank paid the sales tax, but [the dealership] never took the money to the courthouse to pay it off,” McAdams said. “Now I’m stuck paying for a vehicle I can’t get a title to, or tags.”

McAdams said he has already received an extension for his temporary tag from the county clerk’s office. That extension will expire by April, leaving him with no option to pay the sales tax out of his own pocket.

“I’m not filing a lawsuit, but I want them prosecuted for breaking the law,” he said, adding that he is working with County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis and the Lawrenceburg Police Department.

Lewis confirmed Friday that her office and the police have received multiple complaints of a “varying nature.”

“An investigation is in progress,” she said, adding that those who need assistance are welcome to call her office at 839-5164.

McAdams says he doesn’t plan to sue the dealership’s former owner, Bill Waits, but plenty of civil suits have already been filed.

Ford Motor Company filed a $3.2 million lawsuit March 10, claiming that Waits had defaulted on his wholesale financing and security agreement, according to documents on file in the Anderson County Courthouse.

Waits is also being sued by Forrest Hill Inc. for $58,808. That company is owned by Jimmie Morgan, who leased the dealership to Waits and formerly operated the dealership at that location before Waits purchased the business two years ago.

The day after the dealership closed, officers with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office were seen inside, documenting the building’s contents and securing the area.

By Thursday, trucks began hauling off the Chrysler inventory. The Ford inventory remained on the lot Tuesday.

Waits, whose listed address is 218 Golf Club Drive in Nicholasville, reportedly filed for bankruptcy last Friday afternoon.

News that Anderson County had lost its only remaining new-car dealership was met with consternation during last Tuesday’s Lawrenceburg-Anderson County Economic Development Authority meeting.

Chairman Charlie Cammack told fellow members of the closing, saying it comes as a blow to the group’s efforts to foster economic development.

“Not having a new-car dealership hurts when we bring a prospective client into the area,” Cammack said.

Cammack also expressed concern that Ford and Chrysler could opt to not carry their local franchises forward should another dealership express interest in Anderson County.

Losing the dealership also has an impact on the local tax base. According to documents provided by Deputy Property Value Administrator Brian Stivers, the dealership’s inventory tax has climbed steadily over the past several years.

The dealership reported $2.4 million in inventory in 2007, which resulted in $5,252 split among local taxing districts. That figure climbed to just over $3 million in 2008 and an estimated $4.6 million in 2009.

For McAdams, the experience has been a nightmare but he is grateful for the help he has received from local officials.

“The county attorney’s office, the police and the county clerk’s office have been just great,” he said. “They have been a lot of help.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.