Here’s the short version: A Queens cab driver and father of three, Shahdat Tuhin, 41, is suing a Woodside car dealership called New York Motor Group, alleging that they sold him a lemon, and charged him much more than he’d agreed. He’s upset about that. Longer version: According to the lawsuit he filed this month in federal court, Tuhin is also upset about other things he says the dealership did during the process of selling him that car, including defrauding him, deceiving him, and threatening to file for divorce on his behalf. (We’ll explain in a minute, don’t worry.)
Things got so out of hand, according to Tuhin, that New York Motor Group’s owner, Mamdoh Eltouby, tried to run him over during a “peaceful protest” of the dealership’s business practices.
According to Tuhin’s suit, the trouble began when he decided to purchase a 2008 Lexus ES 350. His nine-year-old daughter has a heart condition and requires frequent hospitalization, and he wanted a safe car to get her there. An ad on NYMG’s website priced the car at $14,995. On June 19, Tuhin, who’d never bought a car before and didn’t know much about the process, headed to the dealership with a friend in tow.
Things quickly got weird. Tuhin met with a sales manager named Mohammed, who told him that he he had to sign a contract before he could get financing for the car. (Not true.) So Tuhin signed a sales contract for $13,995, and left a $2,000 down payment with Mohammed and a salesperson named Dewan.
Two days later, Tuhin met with the dealership’s finance manager, who introduced himself variously as “John,” “Jay,” and “Julio.” Although Tuhin had brought two friends with him, Dewan refused to allow them into “John’s” office. After Tuhin said he wouldn’t buy the car without at least one of them there, John allowed the friend inside, but only on the condition that the man hand over his driver’s license.
John told Tuhin that the car would be financed for 60 months. The interest rate would be 5.84 percent for the first six months, but after that, if he made his payments on time, they’d drop it to around 2 percent. Tuhin agreed. But when he asked for a written contract, the suit alleges, John said “his software did not let him print them.” He told Tuhin to sign a blank contract instead, which Tuhin refused to do. He demanded to test-drive the vehicle, which they let him do–for about five minutes.
When Tuhin came back again to finalize the deal, he finally got a look at a CarFax report for the vehicle, which, to his unpleasant surprise, said that the car had been in three accidents. He also noticed new body damage on the car that hadn’t been there three days before. At that point, sensibly enough, he decided to back out.
But it wasn’t that easy. John told Tuhin that if he didn’t buy the car, he would still have to pay 35 percent of the purchase price. He also offered to lower the price to $12,000. Feeling trapped, Tuhin agreed. John added then that if he missed one payment, the price of the car would jump to $26,000. He showed Tuhin a contract for $22,785 and told him to sign. The higher price, John said, “only reflected the amount he would have to pay if he missed one of the first six payments.”
Tuhin said no. He asked for a contract for $12,000. The finance manager dug out another piece of paper and told him it was a contract for that amount. Then, the suit says, “The finance manager rushed Mr. Tuhin and obscured the paper so that he could not see the areas surrounding his signatures.”
Tuhin asked for a copy of his contract, and was told he’d be given one when he left. He wasn’t. John also had him sign a slew of other papers, assuring him they were all part of the deal. When Tuhin tried to pick up and read one of the papers, the suit says, John grabbed it and said, “Don’t touch.”
Finally, the finance manager told Tuhin he could have the car, but only for an additional fee, which had to be paid in cash. After the $30 he had in his wallet was deemed insufficient, a salesperson drove him to an ATM and told him to take out another $600.
When Tuhin got home, he finally got a look at the pile of paper he’d signed, and realized he’d been tricked into signing a buyer’s order for $22,795.87. A retail installment contract charged him a total of $26,000, plus $5,000 in extra fees. NYMG employees had also added a bunch of other extras, including a $3,000 “service contract.”
The next day, he called M&T Bank, which had financed the car. They told him there was nothing they could do, and suggested calling the Attorney General.
Instead, Tuhin went back to the dealership and told them he was returning the car and revoking the contract. But when he tried to bring the car back onto the lot, Dewan and several other people wouldn’t let him onto the lot or take the car back. One salesperson, according to the suit, “threatened him that among the myriad papers he was pressured into signing without reading were divorce papers, and that they would file for divorce on his behalf if he bothered them again.”
Not knowing what to do, Tuhin made his first two payments. In the meantime, he realized the car shook violently and made a “vibrating noise” that got worse as he drove. When he took the car back to the dealership, they weren’t able to fix it, he says, although they did helpfully swap out his new tires for four used ones. Another mechanic recommended $3,000 in repairs.
In August, Tuhin says, he met another man who’d been swindled by New York Motor Group, and the two decided to stage a protest in front of the dealership.
“Although the protesters were peaceful,” the lawsuit continues, “a man who identified himself as the owner assaulted Mr. Tuhin and the protestors by attempting to run them over with his vehicle, leaving Mr. Tuhin terrorized and traumatized.” Immediately after that, an employee who’d been washing cars turned the hose he was using on the protesters. After several people called 911, the police arrived and got the dealership to give Tuhin the sales contract he’d never received, for $12,000.
At that point, Tuhin knew he needed a lawyer. In September, he found MFY Legal Services , which represents low-income clients, helping with things like housing issues and debt, especially student loan, medical, and credit card debt. But they also run a hotline for financial scam victims; according to Tuhin’s lawyer, Ariana Lindermayer, they’ve been getting a lot of calls lately about car dealerships.
“It seems like a lot of the dealerships in New York are pretty problematic,” Lindermayer says. “It’s very hard to protect yourself against some of the practices that these dealerships employ.”
Following MFY’s advice, Tuhin took the car back to New York Motor Group and managed to park it on the lot; he also surrendered his plates to the Department of Motor Vehicles. But that night, employees from the dealership stuck dealer plates back on the car, parked it next to a fire hydrant near Tuhin’s apartment, and took the plates off. According to the suit, “Several signs with Mr. Tuhin’s name and address were attached to the inside of the car windows.” The employees then went to Tuhin’s home and gave his car keys to his nine-year-old daughter.
“We believe it was an attempt to get his license revoked,” Lindermayer says. As a cab driver, “that’s how he feeds his family. It’s crazy. I’ve heard of this happening before, but that’s another step of crazy in the dealership’s practices.”
But Tuhin isn’t the only unhappy customer.
There appear to be more than a few unsatisfied New York Motor Group customers out there; the dealership got an F with the Better Business Bureau, as did one of owner Eltouby’s other dealerships, Planet Motor Cars in Jamaica, which has subsequently changed its name to Hillside Motors. There are also a number of angry reviews on the website Dealer Rater, many of which throw around words like “crooks” and “scam.” (The people on Cars.com, however, are a bit kinder, with several saying they had “great” experiences with the dealership.)
New York Motor Group is also being sued by another man in federal court; Anwar Alkhatib says he, too, was pressured and deceived into buying a $14,000 car for more than $21,000. Some of the details are strikingly similar, including the “deposit” Alkhatib was asked to put down, and being told by the salesperson that he would be liable for 35 percent of the purchase price of the car, even if he didn’t buy it.
According to Lindermayer, Eltouby appears to open and close dealerships repeatedly, changing the names each time. Even as MFY filed the lawsuit against New York Motor Groups, they learned that the dealership was in the process of changing the name on its sign.
“They pop up everywhere,” Lindermayer says of fraudulent dealerships. “They’re pretty incorrigible. The other aspect is the banks that are giving them financing. As long as there’s a bank willing to give them financing and purchase these fraudulent finance agreements from them, they’ll continue doing business.”
MFY has contacted both the Attorney General and the Department of Consumer Affairs regarding Eltouby’s actions; the AG has yet to respond, and the DCA, although they’ve asked for more information, hasn’t taken any action. Tuhin is suing New York Motor Group for violations of warranty law, lending regulations, the commercial code, and New York state business laws, as well as fraud and breach of contract. He’s also suing M&T Bank for continuing to demand payment even after being repeatedly informed that the contract was fraudulent. Finally, he’s suing Eltouby for assault, for allegedly trying to run him over, and suing for battery against the unnamed employee who hosed him down.
Eltouby did not immediately respond to several requests for comment, nor did an attorney defending him in Alkhatib’s suit.
Tahin’s full complaint is on the next page; Alkhatib’s lawsuit follows.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2013