STATEN ISLAND, NY — The state attorney general is investigating whether Manfredi Auto Group deceived nearly 1,500 customers by allegedly selling them contracts for credit repair and identity theft protection services without their knowledge when they purchased or leased their cars.
Those services, provided by a third party, were frequently worthless to consumers, contends Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
On Wednesday, Schneiderman filed papers in Manhattan state Supreme Court seeking to compel Manfredi to comply with an investigatory subpoena his office issued three months ago requesting records relating to the sales of a number of those contracts.
Between January 2011 and Nov. 5 of last year, Manfredi dealerships sold at least 1,475 contracts totaling more than $445,000 for credit repair and identity theft prevention services provided by Credit Forget It Inc. (CFI), an unrelated third party, said the AGs court filings.
The average cost to consumers was $302 per contract, said Schneiderman.
Manfredi has not been charged with any crime and has not been sued.
The Manfredi family built its dealership on honesty and integrity, said Joseph Magnotti, identified in court papers as Manfredis lawyer. They would comply with any reasonable requests by any governmental agency and have done so many times in the past without incident.
What they required in terms of electronic and other forms of documents most people wouldnt have, he said of the AGs demand.
Manfredi is a longtime mainstay on the Staten Island car-sale scene with 10 dealerships.
However, multiple sources told the Advance in April the majority of the Manfredi automobile empire is up for sale with a deal expected to be finalized later this year.
According to the AGs legal papers, CFI had no expertise in the services it purported to provide. And its employees were hired without previous experience or training in budget counseling or credit repair and received minimal on-the-job training, Schneiderman contends.
In actuality, CFIs credit repair and identity theft protection services were frequently worthless to consumers, or at best, provided a meager portion of the services that were promised by the contracts and marketing materials provided to consumers, Schneidermans court papers contend.
The AG court filings say he has reason to believe, based on statements made by a former CFI account manager, that Manfredi and other car dealerships had jammed or included CFIs contract into the vehicles sales and leases without customers knowledge.
Neither Manfredi nor CFI is authorized to be involved in the credit repair services business, maintains Schneiderman.
When consumers shop for a car, they deserve to be dealt with honestly and fairly – not misled by dealers trying to make an extra buck using deceptive tactics, said Schneiderman in a statement. Consumers should know that companies that claim they can improve your credit for a fee are selling you a bill of goods.
Beyond that, car dealers should stick to selling cars, not padding their pockets with fees for unrelated and worthless services that a consumer doesnt need, doesnt want, and doesnt even know they bought, the AG said.
Schneiderman began probing CFI last year.
He expanded his investigation to include car dealerships, which allegedly tried to boost profits by peddling credit repair and identity theft prevention services provided by others.
CFI said it sold its plan to about 37,000 customers in New York and other states, and that at least 75 to 80 percent of them didnt receive any of the promised services, according to the AGs court filing.
According to Schneiderman, charging customers an upfront fee for credit repair services is unlawful and renders the contract void.
CFI and its two principals recently agreed to a consent order with Schneiderman which bars them from marketing, promoting, offering or selling credit repair or identity theft protection services to consumers.
The order also requires them to instruct all dealers to whom they distributed contracts for credit repair services for sale to stop peddling those services and to remove all promotional materials and contracts from their dealerships, said a spokesman for Schneiderman.
In addition, the order calls for Credit Forget It to disband, or face a $2 million fine, the spokesman said.
Scheneiderman said his office, in January, began talks with Magnotti, Manfredis lawyer.
The AG requested all documents pertaining to the sale of CFI contracts for sold or leased vehicles for the months of October and December 2013 and February 2014.
Such records include policies and procedures concerning the marketing and sale of CFIs services, contracts and communications between Manfredi and CFI and a host of other materials.
Schneiderman maintains he needs those records to determine whether Manfredi deceptively sold the CFI contracts and other after-sale products to customers or jammed those costs into the vehicles total price without consumers knowledge.
Magnotti objected to the scope of the subpoena and threatened to quash it, said the AGs court papers.
To date, Manfredi has only provided a blank copy of the CFI contract it provided to consumers, Schneiderman said. The company has not moved to quash the subpoena.
Corrado (Joe) Manfredi, who died in March at age 77, launched the Manfredi Auto Mall in 1962, and bought his first Staten Island dealership in 1985.
Today, there are 10 dealerships under the Manfredi umbrella: Manfredi Chevrolet in New Dorp; Staten Island Subaru and Manfredi Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Grasmere;and Fiat of Staten Island, Manfredi Hyundai, Manfredi Kia, Manfredi Mazda, Manfredi Mitsubishi, Manfredi Scion and Staten Island Toyota, all in Dongan Hills.
Manfredi and hisson, Nick, who is vice president, ran thedealershipstogether until the elder Manfredisdeath.
Multiple sources, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak about the transaction on the record, told the Advance that an automotive giantwhich owns dealerships inNew York and New Jersey isin the process of purchasing nine ofManfredis 10 borough operations.
Manfredi Chevrolet is the lone dealership not being sold, the sources said.
A dealhas been in the works since before Manfredis death, the sources said, adding that purchasingmultiple dealerships is often a long process requiring approval from allthemanufacturers before thesale can be finalized.