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Flushing auto dealer added hidden charges: Customers

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The patrons decried the practices of Citi...

By Alexander Dworkowitz

Six customers of a Flushing car dealership spoke out against the business at a news conference last week, alleging that the sales people deceived them by adding hidden costs to their written purchase contracts.

The patrons decried the practices of Citi Auto Leasing, also known as Citi Auto Mall and HSR Automotive Sales Inc., last Thursday in the office of City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing).

“I really have to stand up this time and bring [Citi Auto] to justice,” said Alex Hing, a Long Island City resident who said the business overcharged him $2,400 when he bought a Mazda in 2001.

Citi Auto, with two separate locations in Flushing, has been taking advantage of customers since it opened in 2000, according to Liu and Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing).

Complaints about the dealership’s business tactics have been filed with the city Department of Consumer Affairs, while some Citi Auto clients have sought relief in small claims court. Grodenchik has asked the state attorney general to investigate the firm.

The dealership’s owner, however, contended his employees simply use a common business practice.

According to the politicians, the employees at the dealership verbally agree on one price but list a higher price in the contract. Customers often sign the contract without realizing they are agreeing to pay more, the politicians said.

Most of Citi Auto’s customers are Chinese and many struggle to speak English, although some are native English speakers. The employees negotiate the deal in the customers’ native tongue, but fill out the paperwork in English, the elected officials said.

Several customers said they came to Citi Auto because they knew the staff speaks Chinese dialects.

Through a translator, one customer said an employee of Citi Auto had him sign a blank contract and ended up filling in a higher price later.

Shawn Guo, an Elmhurst resident, said he was billed $3,000 more than the price he agreed upon.

“I want my money back, and I want these people to be shut down,” Guo said.

But Gary Wong, the company’s owner, portrayed the deals in a very different light.

He said his employees often do increase prices after a verbal agreement. But those customers accept additional features, such as an anti-theft system and a sound system, he said.

“If you say you want it, of course you are going to pay for it,” Wong said.

Liu, however, was doubtful of Wong’s explanations.

“All of that is baloney,” he said. “It is a pure and simple ripoff.... The fact is Citi Auto Mall defrauds customers, and we have got to put a stop to it.”

So far, 44 people have made claims against Citi Auto, the politicians said. Twenty-eight people have complained directly to Liu and Grodenchik and 18 people have filed complaints with the city Department of Consumer Affairs. Two people have lodged complaints with both agencies.

Small claims court judges have ordered Citi Auto to pay back five clients, although only two of them have received their money back, according to a DCA complaint. Citi Auto repaid two of the customers after pressure was applied by the DCA, the complaint said.

Grodenchik has asked the office of state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to investigate possible criminal charges against the business.

A DCA hearing on Citi Auto is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:17 pm, October 10, 2011
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