Lemon Law News – Minnesota Car Salesman Pleads Guilty for Police Car Scheme
Lemon Laws Protect Consumers from Defective Vehicles
The man at the center of a double billing scheme that overcharged more than 200 police agencies in Minnesota will not fight the criminal charges.
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An audit found taxpayers were overcharged on 3,225 vehicles on sales dating back to 2010.
The scam by the fleet manager for Nelson Auto Center, a car dealership in Fergus Falls, Minn., netted the man $803,000 in overcharges on police car purchases.
“We went through line item by line item and so that was pretty painstaking,” said Curt Yoakum, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Administration. “Obviously the biggest surprise was that someone had the audacity to try overcharging law enforcement.”
Gerry Worner signed a guilty plea agreement with prosecutors for one of the theft counts. Worner was charged in July with five counts of theft by swindle. At first he denied the charges.
If the plea bargain is approved, Worner will serve 30 days in jail followed by a five-year probation, and be ordered to pay a fine and make restitution to the victims.
A television media investigation exposed the scandal, which went on unaware by the auto company’s owners, who will not face charges. Despite the company’s corporation with investigators, the Minnesota Department of Administration stripped Nelson Auto of its $15 million-a-year contract to sell Ford SUV’s to law enforcement agencies.
The investigation also revealed problems with the oversight of purchases made through state contracts, with records showing the Department of Administration and the Department of Public Safety failing to investigate accusations from a whistleblower and overage reports
Matt Massman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration, said in response his office has initiated new fraud prevention policies including hiring a compliance expert to review other state contracts.
“We want to make sure we’re putting the resources on it to get this right – and frankly to deter any potential vendor from doing something similar on another state contract,” Massman said.
The whistleblower, a private citizen with both a law enforcement and vehicle purchasing background, shared the tip with reporters in March 2017. He said back in 2015 he discovered the St. Paul Police Department had been overcharged for spotlights and heated mirrors on some of their squad cars.
With the information, St. Paul officials demanded a refund and Nelson Auto cut a check paying back more than $13,000.
Suspecting other departments might have also been overcharged, the whistleblower provided the information to the state agency which oversees the contract. Two years later, with the state agency sill not pursuing the case, the whistleblower contacted the media.
Lemon law attorneys help their clients by dealing directly with the manufacturer on the clients’ behalf, working to promptly resolve the issue and get their clients back on the road. Thanks to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, attorneys can seek their fees directly from the manufacturer, meaning a client can obtain legal counsel without having to pay attorneys’ fees directly out of pocket.