Well-known dealership investigated for forgery

8:38 PM, May 18, 2011   |    comments
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One couple told 9Wants to Know investigator Kyle Clark their signatures appeared on a loan they never saw and that would have cost them about $1,300 more than they expected to pay.

Johnnie and Teresa Tavenner bought a van at Christopher's Dodge in November to accommodate their growing family. The Tavenners recently adopted their three great-nephews who are special-needs children aged 4, 5 and 6.

"We had to have a bigger vehicle for all of us to go anywhere," Teresa Tavenner said.

Like many car buyers, the Tavenners left the dealership with their new ride before financing was finalized, meaning they could be called back to the dealership to sign a different deal if the original financing fell through.

The Tavenners say they were never called back to approve a more costly financing deal.

So who signed off an on interest rate hike from the 4.99 percent they expected to 7.44 percent? According to the signatures on the deal, they did.

"Those are not our signatures," Teresa Tavenner said, pointing to the signatures laid side by side. "His last name's misspelled."

After discovering the higher interest rate and the signatures, Johnnie Tavenner was irate at Christopher's Dodge.

"I was very angry," Johnnie Tavenner said. "I was ready to go up there and put some knots on some heads."

Christopher's Dodge owner Chris Hall says he believes the Tavenners when they say the signatures are forgeries.

"I'm a very ethical man and this drives me crazy," Hall said.

Hall says his own staff looked at the two sets of signatures and agreed the second pair looked suspect.

"If we've got a thief in the house, I'd love him to go to jail," Hall said.

He says the dealership took action on an employee involved with the Tavenner family's deal and another deal that's also being investigated by Golden Police.

When 9Wants to Know reached a former Christopher's Dodge employee by phone, he said he didn't forge the Tavenners' signatures. He did say that, in general what went on at Christopher's Dodge wasn't illegal, just morally objectionable.

"I was asked to do objectionable things," the former employee said.

Hall says he didn't know what the former employee was talking about.

"I don't. No. That's not the way we do business," Hall said.

In an interview with 9Wants to Know, Hall said, apart from additional training by a finance consultant, Christopher's Dodge does not have a new system to catch forged documents. Additionally, Hall says the dealership did not go back and review other deals involving the fired finance employee. It is up to customers to complain.

"If they see something, we'll address it," Hall said. "We'll take care of it."

The Tavenners say when they confronted Christopher's Dodge, the dealership did everything it could to make them happy, then asked them to sign a piece of paper saying they were satisfied with their experience.

"I told him, 'I know what you can do with that piece of paper,'" Johnnie Tavenner said. "'And I ain't signing it.'"

One day after his interview, Hall provided an additional written statement to 9Wants to Know saying the dealership is taking additional steps to protect against fraud, but did not mention any specific programs or procedures.

"First, we are going to order the compliance expert we are meeting with next month to train our employees how to detect suspicious documents. We aren't handwriting experts, but we will seek his guidance to spot potential problems," the statement read in part. "Christopher's Dodge will continue to cooperate with law enforcement to be sure that these are the only two cases of fraud and ask law enforcement for advice on how to help protect our customers, lenders and our reputation in the future."

The credit union involved in the Tavenners deal, Air Academy Federal Credit Union in Colorado Springs, would not discuss the family loan nor allow them to waive their right to privacy so the contract could be discussed with a reporter.

Air Academy also would not say if it is continuing to do business with Christopher's Dodge.

The Tavenners kept the van after signing a new loan directly with Air Academy.

Christopher's Dodge says in both cases, it has proactively cooperated with police and auto industry regulators, and has taken care of the customers involved in both alleged forgery cases.

The Tavenner family's deal and the criminal investigation aside, there are a number of ways car buyers can protect themselves when financing their next vehicle purchase.

First, you should know how the system works. When a car buyer uses dealer financing, the dealership can mark up the interest rate to make something called "dealer reserve" where the loan is purchased from the bank at one rate and offered to the buyer at a higher rate. The dealership pockets the difference.

Auto dealers say that is their compensation for arranging the deal, but an April 2011 study from the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending found dealer reserve sometimes amounts to buyer paying the dealer the equivalent of more than $1,000 per hour to handle the financing.

Car buyers may want to consider getting pre-approval for an auto loan from their own bank or credit union before going to the dealership.

Buyers who do opt for third-party financing through a dealership should be well-aware of whether the financing has been finalized before driving off the lot to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Buyers can ask the dealership to show them the bank's offer sheet for the loan, which should show the interest rate prior to any markup, or dealer reserve.

Lastly, to avoid the specific situation encountered by the Tavenners, customers should consider asking their lending institution for a copy of the agreement passed along by the dealership, to ensure it is in fact the deal they signed.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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