Car dealership in Flushing ripped off customers: Pols

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By Alexander Dworkowitz

About two dozen people have come forward to complain about a Flushing auto dealer, claiming the business ripped them off by raising the price on a car purchase after the two sides already had agreed up on a set amount, two elected officials said.

Citi Auto Leasing, also known as HSR Automotive Sales Inc., has been overcharging its customers for months, said Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing).

“People are getting cheated out of their money,” Liu said. “Many of them happen to be older people who are cajoled into just signing documents, and then the price gets changed on them without them knowing about it.”

Liu and state Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) outlined the troubles with the dealership at a June 30 news conference based on the complaints of a handful of individuals. Since the politicians went public with the situation, many more victims have come forward, and as of Tuesday about two dozen people had contacted the councilman about Citi Auto, Liu said.

Citi Auto sells both new and used cars at two locations, at 137-77 Northern Blvd. and 131-01 Sanford Ave., both in Flushing.

Gary Wong, owner of Citi Auto, said the councilman was wrongly characterizing a common business practice.

According to Liu, in many different instances employees of Citi Auto orally agreed to one price and then listed a higher price in written documents. The customers signed the documents without realizing they were paying a higher price, Liu said.

In one case, a 70-year-old retired Flushing resident, who appeared at last week’s news conference, agreed to pay $15,996 for a 2002 Honda Civic, including taxes and fees, but was actually charged $18,251, Liu said.

The man asked for his money back but was rebuffed by Citi Auto employees, the councilman said.

“The issue is honoring the oral agreement that was made at the point of sale,” Liu said.

Wong admitted the 70-year-old man was charged more than the originally agreed-upon price.

But he said his salesman offered the customer more options, including a sound system and anti-theft system, and the customer accepted them.

“That’s a common practice,” Wong said. “It’s business.”

Wong said he had sent the man a $110 check to make him “happy.”

Many people have expressed concerns about Citi Auto since the business opened in 2000, according to the city Department of Consumer Affairs.

“We have roughly 19 complainants that we are seeking restitution for,” said Dina Improta, a spokeswoman for the DCA.

Several of those complainants have already sued the company and won judgments against Citi Auto in small claims court, according to a document provided by the DCA.

The city Department of Consumer Affairs has scheduled an Aug. 5 hearing for Citi Auto which could result in fines for the company and the revocation of its license to sell used cars.

“A hearing is a hearing,” Wong said. “Innocent until proven guilty.”

Grodenchik said he had asked the office of state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to investigate Citi Auto. A spokesman for Spitzer could not confirm or deny an investigation.

Grodenchik said his office had gotten four phone calls complaining about the business following last week’s press conference.

“Always people have to be very careful,” Grodenchik said. “I hope that this is an isolated occurrence. But obviously the four phone calls we’ve gotten indicate otherwise.”

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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