Business

Auto dealer plans to clean up its act

OLYMPIA -- The state Attorney General's Office on Monday announced that a Mid-Columbia auto dealer had voluntarily entered into an agreement to comply with fair business laws after complaints of alleged unfair business practices.

Assistant Attorney General Mary Lobdell said C. Speck Motors, which operates dealerships in Pasco and Sunnyside, was investigated in late 2007 after the agency received customer complaints.

The agency received 14 complaints that included allegations C. Speck had changed loan terms after original terms were agreed upon; failed to pay off trade-ins within two days; conducted misleading prize promotions such as free gas cards; misrepresented the number of vehicles for sale at an advertised price; sent mailings with wording that created the impression they had been sent by a government agency; and failed to advertise a documentary fee or misrepresented that the fee was optional.

C. Speck co-owner Katy Moore said Monday that she was horrified when she received a letter from the Attorney General's Office in 2007 and immediately took steps to correct any problems, although she said the company wasn't found to have violated any laws.

"Since we got the letter, I have worked diligently to make sure all employees understand our policies," Moore said.

Lobdell said because C. Speck had developed new sales policies and required employees to attend training, the Attorney General's Office decided to settle the matter by entering into a legal agreement called an assurance of discontinuance.

The agreement between the dealership and the agency says the dealership won't perpetuate any alleged unfair practices and will comply with the law, Lobdell said.

"This is more of a lower-level agreement between parties," she said. "They don't admit they did these things wrong, but they agree to fly right from now on."

The dealership also agreed to pay the Attorney General's Office $30,000 in legal costs and to evaluate any complaints made within one year and make restitution to customers who can document they received an offer for a gas card giveaway but never received the free gas.

Lobdell said while the agreement itself doesn't make any specific allegations or findings against C. Speck, it doesn't mean no allegations were made.

"Only a court can make a finding that they did something wrong," Lobdell said. "We made allegations that they violated the law. They told me they had immediately instituted policies and taken many steps to essentially gain compliance with the law."

In the agreement, C. Speck agrees what business practices generally are considered unfair or deceptive under state law and to not engage in those practices.

Moore and Speck's attorney, Brian King of Tacoma, said they were not aware previously that there were 14 complaints and had believed there was only one. They also said the company isn't aware of any instance when someone was offered gas but didn't receive it.

Terms of the agreement say C. Speck doesn't admit any violations, but that the agreement can be considered evidence of a violation if the terms are not met.

Moore said C. Speck has worked cooperatively with the Attorney General's Office and voluntarily agreed to the assurance of discontinuance rather than spend money fighting the allegations.

"There was no finding or admission of any wrongdoing by C. Speck Motors with respect to any customer transactions or business practice," she said.

"C. Speck Motors remains committed to offering the same professional service, expertise and satisfaction that it has provided to its customers for over 100 years. The agreement entered into with the attorney general represents written confirmation of (Speck Motors) ongoing pledge and commitment to its customers."

C. Speck Motors owns Speck Hyundai in Pasco and Speck Chevrolet Buick and Speck Nissan in Sunnyside.

w Michelle Dupler: 360-753-0862; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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