JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – New information in an I-TEAM investigation into Riverside Chevrolet. Thursday, we exposed a pattern of complaints against this specific Jacksonville Chevy dealer accused of failing to pay off customers' trade-in vehicles, resulting in their credit scores being ruined. We also uncovered many of the complaints were coming from members of the military community.
Less than 24-hours after broadcasting the results of our investigation, the dealership's general manager is promising to make things right.
An email Friday to the I-TEAM from Riverside Chevrolet General Manager Damon Ferguson, titled "Plan of Action," reads:
"We have designated a specific individual Natalie Batissa to personally assist our customers with any information concerning vehicle payoffs.
In addition, we have created an email address to where customers can more easily communicate with us as well.(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Any customer that has had any issue with erroneous credit reporting caused by us, our assigned agent will provide a correction letter on the customers behalf to correct the issue.
Other Internal actions will include more staff training during the sales process as to ascertain the correct information from the customer as well as orientation.
I will also be writing personal apology letters to customers as well for the inconvenience we may have caused."
Since our investigation aired on TV and online, more customers have contacted News4Jax to say they are also victims of this dealership's failure to pay off trade-ins.
"I was frustrated, exhausted and very, very upset," Matthew Jones told the I-TEAM.
Matthew and his wife Jennifer said they’ve been through the wringer after trading in their Ford Explorer for a Chevy Tahoe at Riverside Chevrolet on Philips Highway in January.
"Get a call from the credit union that her (Jennifer's) explorer was financed through, wondering why her payment was delinquent. We looked at each other just flabbergasted and confused." Matthew explained.
The couple found out the dealership did not pay off their trade-in as agreed to. So, their payment to their bank was late. Because of that, both of their credit scores dropped dramatically.
Jennifer says she lost 68 points. Matthew says he took a 73-point hit.
"Huge damage, especially when you are in the process of refinancing your home," said Jennifer.
Matthew and Jennifer thought they might be alone, until they saw our I-TEAM investigation uncovering a long-list of similar complaints.
They watched the story of Navy veteran Marie Wright, whose credit was destroyed when the dealership didn't pay off her trade-in for months. On the day she and her husband where set to close on their first home, they were told their VA loan was being denied because of their low credit scores.
They also watched active duty Navy Sailor Ryan Gary tell his story. Gary is now concerned about his military security clearance because his credit was ruined when Riverside Chevrolet waited months to pay off his trade-in.
We went to Richard Kuritz, a Jacksonville attorney who practices consumer law. We asked Kuritz if these customers of Riverside Chevrolet have a legal case.
Based on what I’m seeing, the answer is yes. They absolutely have a case," he answered.
Kuritz says the company had a signed contract with its customers, and they broke that by not paying off their trade-in vehicles.
"It is clearly documented," he added.
He says customers could use the Unfair Credit Reporting Act to get their legal fees paid for and go after the dealership’s owners for damages.
"If somebody did do something wrong, then the issue is going to be what are the damages? When you start talking about a piece of property, it becomes very complex," Kuritz explained.
The customers we spoke to say they never got an apology from the dealership, or any help to make things right.
"I went in there every day for probably six days straight and never could get to the person's face there who was responsible for all this," said Matthew Jones.
Matthew and his wife Jennifer had to take matters into their own hands to try and fix their credit. They contacted the BBB and their credit union -- which reached out to the credit reporting agencies.
"It has since been rectified with the credit bureaus, all three, however our credit scores are still not up to the point they were when we traded in the vehicle. So there still has been damage done to this day," said Jennifer.
For two days, the I-TEAM went to Riverside Chevrolet, trying to speak with General Manager Damon Ferguson. We were told he would contact us, but that didn't happen until three and a half hours after our investigation aired.
Thursday night at 9:01 p.m., a representative sent this statement from Ferguson:
"At Riverside Chevrolet we are committed to serving our customers and in particular those who serve in our military. While we cannot speak to any individual customers credit or financing situation due to privacy laws we can tell you that every effort is made complete every customer transaction in the most professional manner. If in fact there is any error that has been made on our part we will do everything in our power to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. We regret any unintended consequences that this may have caused."
But, there was no plan of action, so when we asked for more, we learned they held an emergency meeting about our story Friday morning. That's when we received the second email which included:
- Designating a staff member to personally assist customers
- Setting up the email email@example.com for customers' concerns
- Promising buyers who had a bad credit report caused by the dealership a correction letter to correct the issue.
Riverside Chevrolet opened in October 2016, after buying it from a long time family-owned business. It’s currently owned by Damon Ferguson and his father Andrew. They formerly ran dealerships in New Orleans, according to their employees, but those closed down.
As of Friday, the Northeast Florida Better Business Bureau has received 30 customer complaints specifically about Riverside Chevrolet -- 20 of them are about their trade-ins not being paid off, resulting in their credit scores being ruined.