Va. dealer apologizes for arrest of customer
The CEO of a Virginia auto dealership group has apologized for the arrest of a customer in June after one of his dealerships mistakenly undercharged the customer for a vehicle, then told local police he stole the vehicle when he resisted the dealership's efforts to get him to pay the difference.
Dennis Ellmer, CEO of Priority Auto Group of Chesapeake, Va., told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper late last month that he owed the customer, Danny Sawyer of Chesapeake, an apology, and would let him keep the vehicle and extra cash after learning that one of the dealership managers reported to police that Sawyer had stolen a 2012 Chevrolet Traverse.
"It is my plan to let him keep the $5,600 and to make Mr. Sawyer right. I can't tell you how I plan to fix it, but it is my intention to make it right," Ellmer told the newspaper, adding that he would like to sit down and talk with Sawyer.
Sawyer's lawyers say that won't be enough. Sawyer, a registered nurse, filed two lawsuits in September against Priority Chevrolet of Chesapeake seeking a total of $2.2 million plus attorney fees. One suit accuses the dealership of malicious prosecution, slander and defamation. The other accuses the store of failing to register the new vehicle.
In the suits, Sawyer contends that he traded in his 2008 Saturn Vue for a blue 2012 Traverse but returned the next day to exchange it for a black one, which was $5,600 more.
"We made a mistake in the paperwork, said Stacy Cummings, Priority Auto Group's vice president. "He paid for the vehicle based on our paperwork that had an error in it. We did not discover our error until the next day."
The dealership spent two weeks trying to contact Sawyer, Cummings said.
Sawyer went on vacation and missed several calls and a letter from the dealership asking him to bring the vehicle back to pay the extra $5,600, according to the suits.
"He didn't come in, so we contacted police for help in locating Mr. Sawyer," Cummings said.
On June 15, Sawyer was arrested on his front lawn and taken before a magistrate judge, according to the suits. He was taken to the Chesapeake jail where he spent four hours before being released on bail.
The local prosecutor dropped the case Aug. 23 after finding insufficient evidence to pursue it, the newspaper reported.
Cummings said Ellmer still stands by his apology and offer to let Sawyer keep the vehicle without paying the extra cost.
Priority Auto Group has 11 dealerships in Virginia and North Carolina. It ranks No. 68 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States with retail sales of 8,954 new vehicles in 2011.