JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Less than two weeks after the I-TEAM uncovered at least 20 complaints accusing Riverside Chevrolet on Philips Highway of ruining customers' credit when it failed to pay off loans on their trade-ins, sources say the Jacksonville Chevy dealership will be sold this week.
Following our on-going investigation into the dealership owned by the Ferguson family, five sources within the dealership tell us Tampa-based Morgan Automotive Group will take it over May 16.
As of Tuesday, state officials told the I-TEAM that the deal has not been approved.
Beth Frady, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, sent the following email to the I-TEAM on Tuesday:
"Thanks for checking in. As of today, the department has not received an application for this dealership to be sold. If the department receives an application, it will certainly assess the application in full detail as well as if the current dealership has any items pending before acting on the application. The department is continuing to investigate this issue and remains committed to assisting consumers who may have been harmed by this dealership."
While neither side will confirm the sale, Kendal Bussey, a man who used to work for the Fergusons and contacted the I-TEAM after learning about our investigation, says he's not surprised to hear about a sale, telling us that's the reputation of this family.
"It’s very unethical," said Bussey a former general manager for the Ferguson family when they had dealerships in Louisiana. "These people do not belong in the car business."
The Fergusons have owned Riverside Chevrolet in Jacksonville since 2016, and before then, they owned a dealership in St. Augustine, Orange Park and also New Orleans.
"I realize that number one, they did not care about customers. It was all about just a dollar for themselves. Just not good people at all," he said.
Bussey, who’s been in the car business for 30 years after playing in the NFL, was the general manager at two of the family’s former dealerships: Nissan and Cadillac of New Orleans.
"You hear stories that they like to come in locations and buy and sell stores. They promise that is not what they were doing, that they were trying to find a home. And come to find out, that is exactly what they did. It ruins the reputation of the city, definitely puts a bad stain on the dealership, and they end up selling both stores and leaving," he said.
Bussey now works for another dealership in Mississippi, but says the Fergusons still owe him $35,000 in pay from his final months before he resigned, adding he’s in a lawsuit with them right now. But, he says he’s more concerned about the hundreds of customers who’ve been ripped off.
"It’s very frustrating, especially when you are a Christian guy that tries to do business the right way. And this is what you do for a living? And you have to live in this area long after they’re gone," said Bussey. "People see you in the grocery store, church members that you sold cars to, customers that you have been doing for 15 or 20 years. It is very, very embarrassing."
Bussey claims the Fergusons have been using these same tactics for years -- buying a dealership for cheap, cutting costs, not paying off trade-ins and vendors, and then selling for a big profit. And he says customers who are owed money are out of luck.
"If they are owed money, they are never going to get it. Or, you can try to fight them and it’s going to cost you a lot of attorney bills to fight them," said Bussey. "The people that they hurt, I feel really bad for them. I will make sure that I keep them in my prayers. And I hope that someone will do something to stop this kind of action."
The I-TEAM has reached out to the Fergusons for their side of the story, but so far, we've only received two brief statements. Not once, have they returned our phone calls.
Following our initial I-TEAM reports on Riverside Chevrolet, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has launched its own investigation into the dealership. The FLHSMV is asking anyone with a complaint against Riverside Chevrolet to fill out this form and send it the appropriate address listed on the last page.
According to attorney Jim Kowalksi with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, customers who want to take legal action against the Fergusons may still be able to, even after the dealership is sold. Here are the questions the I-TEAM asked Kowalski followed by his answers:
What does the sale of Riverside Chevrolet mean for the people who have standing complaints?
"If the complaints are administrative, nothing much should happen. If there are pending lawsuits, Florida law actually allows the case to continue in the name of the old party even when a new party takes over. Happens all the time in banking cases.
What about legal action? Can people still pursue?
"Yes, as to legal action. Only issue is whether the prior corporation still exists. (See next question.)
What responsibilities do the new owners have taking over the troubled dealership?
"Depends on the purchase and sale documents. If the buyer took over all pending liabilities, and there was notice of this issue, then probably, yes. If it was an asset sale only, then possibly not."