Two employees at Nissan of Newnan in Georgia have been arrested amid a police investigation into customer reports of fraud on vehicle purchase paperwork.
Two customers reported forged signatures on their documentation, with one alleging the forgery in connection with a vehicle service contract and other add-on items included in the deal without her knowledge. A third police report found a couple alleging the dealership lied to a financial institution about the trim level of the pickup they purchased, a practice known in the finance-and-insurance industry as "power-booking."
A spokeswoman for the city of Newnan would not confirm whether any arrests had been made in the case, citing the ongoing investigation into the dealership.
But attorney John Lovell of the Law Offices of John Lovell said his clients Joshua Cherman and Mohammed Karim Hassan had each been arrested on suspicion of single counts of theft by deception in connection with the case.
The two were arraigned in Coweta County Magistrate Court in Newnan and both pleaded not guilty, Lovell said.
On March 19, the dealership's website listed Cherman as a sales manager and Hassan as the executive manager, according to a Google cache. They were not present on the retailer's staff page as of Wednesday, and their current employment status was unclear.
"I am a firm believer in the American concept of innocent unless proven guilty. I request that these men be given that presumption of innocence," Lovell said in a statement Wednesday. "I look forward to presenting additional evidence and proving their innocence."
Lovell does not represent Nissan of Newnan. Karen Kulinich, CFO of Nissan of Newnan owner Smith Automotive Group, told Automotive News she would not comment on advice of counsel.
Police reports provided by the city of Newnan in connection with the case date back to late last year.
In October, Iryna Alfieri said she hadn't bought what a Newnan police report characterized as "an extended warranty or any other add-ons" during a September vehicle purchase but discovered them on the deal anyway, according to the report.
"The signature on these add-on documents differ from the signature on the standard purchase papers," police wrote.
The add-on signatures were done electronically, not by hand, according to police.
"Ms. Alfeiri stated that she has tried to get this matter reversed with the dealership[,] however they have not been inclined to address the issue," police wrote.
Lindsay Collins told authorities in December that she attempted to return a vehicle to Nissan of Newnan under a lemon law, but the retailer refused to take it back, according to a police report. She alleged the paperwork on the deal held multiple forged signatures, and Newnan police reported an "apparent difference in the signatures."
The same day as Collins' report, an officer met with customer Juston Steele and his wife. The couple alleged they bought a 2018 Ford F-150 XLT but found Nissan of Newnan told their lender it was a Ford F-150 Platinum with what the officer described as "specific trims and items" not present on the couple's truck.
The couple said this configuration carried a vehicle cost of $47,000 instead of the actual $33,000 price on the XLT, and the change was "so that the financial [institution] would allow the amount to be processed at a higher rate," according to the police report.