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Published: Friday, 6/16/2006

Sylvania dealer accused of incentive abuse

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

A DaimlerChrysler AG unit has sued Vin Devers Inc. of Sylvania, contending that the local automobile dealer abused the car maker's popular employee purchase plan and other sales-incentive programs.

The suit, which does not put a price tag on the alleged damages, contends that the dealership improperly handled incentive purchases starting Jan. 1, 2000.

The case, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges Vin Devers exaggerated the amount Daimler employees and family members paid for vehicles in reports to the carmaker. The lawsuit says the dealership took the action to boost its returns from the automaker for such sales.

It accuses the dealer of fraudulent conduct, conversion, and unjust enrichment and seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees.

Jim Jeffery, the attorney for Paul Devers, said his client is aware of the lawsuit but hopes the situation can be resolved through meetings.

"There are no customers alleging these things and if the top management had been aware of it, DaimlerChrysler would have probably been seeking to take the dealership," the attorney said.

Daimler spokesman Michael Palese said it is unusual for the firm to sue one of its dealerships. But, he added, the company is "exercising its right to recoup money paid out based on questionable claims this dealer submitted to the company."

The dealership on Monroe Street has received more than $8 million in returns under the various incentive programs, the suit states, but how much may have been improper is not listed.

Vin Devers received improper reimbursements, the suit alleges, by falsely reporting customers purchased certain vehicle options, by wrongly altering vehicle invoices, by submitting false information about trade-ins, and by other means.

The suit alleges the dealership sought payments in transactions involving buyers who were ineligible for the employee purchase plan.

"Vin Devers made these representations with the

intent of misleading (the car-maker) and, with respect to the employee purchase program, with the intent of misleading eligible participants in the program," the lawsuit states.

The dealership also improperly received $34,000 under a program that provides incentives to dealerships for exceeding sales quotas, according to the suit.

The dealership accomplished this, the suit contends, by transactions with Automotive & Performance Specialties LLC, which Devers officials claimed was an outside, independent firm but which has the same owners as the dealership: Paul Devers and Thomas Devers.

Further, the dealership filed false reimbursement claims under a program that rewards return customers, in some cases by altering vehicle registration cards, the suit alleges.

In program audits last year, the dealership refused to permit the car maker to review records involving sales from January to July, 2004, when dealers are required to allow the access under the incentive agreements, the litigation says.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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