JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Riverside Chevrolet in Jacksonville is not only accused of ripping off customers, the Jacksonville dealership is now accused of failing to pay taxes and fees adding up to nearly a half million dollars.
Riverside Chevrolet on Philips Highway has been the subject of an I-TEAM investigation since May 3, involving complaints that the dealership didn't pay off loans on customers' trade-in vehicles, resulting in customers' credit scores being ruined. Many of those complaints came from active-duty military and veterans.
The I-TEAM has now uncovered that the Florida Department of Revenue filed tax warrants and a lien in court this month for Riverside Chevrolet, accusing the dealership of not paying Sales and Use Tax, not paying Reemployment Tax (formally known as Unemployment Tax), and not paying Solid Waste Fees.
Here is the breakdown of the tax warrants and lien:
|Sales and Use Tax owed||$408,886.38|
|Additional penalties for Sales and Use Tax owed||$28,974.27|
|Reemployment Tax lien||$3,040.41|
|Solid Waste Fee owed||$9,259.15|
|Total Riverside Chevrolet is said to owe||$450.160.21|
"It appears that what happened is this dealership, in addition to not paying off the cars of their customers, the trade-ins, in addition to not paying their employees, they weren’t paying their sales tax or any of the taxes to the government," said Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, who is not affiliated with this case. "There is no way that you can get this kind of unpaid taxes by oversight, by inadvertence, by mistake. This is fraud."
Customers pay a sales tax on every new and used car sold they buy in the state of Florida. But, they pay it to the dealership, which is then supposed to be pay the money to the state. But, by filing these documents in court, the state is saying Riverside Chevrolet didn’t do that.
Mathis said all of these allegations suggest that this has been going on for some time.
"This is not an isolated event," he explained. "You don’t get $450,000 of taxes for inadvertently omitting to pay taxes on one or two cars. This is a pattern. This is a deliberate attempt to take all of the money from the dealership and stick it in their pocket."
Riverside Chevrolet and its owners, the Ferguson family, are also under investigation by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. That agency told the I-TEAM Riverside Chevrolet could have its license suspended and faces fines of $1,000 for each violation of not paying off loans.
There could be employment violations as well, as several current and former employees have told the I-Team the dealership has not paid them their commissions.
Mathis said the consequences for the owners and upper managers could be severe.
"It is criminal as well as civil. There are criminal penalties for failing to pay taxes. There are famous celebrities in jail right now because they thought they did not have to pay taxes," said Mathis. "Those responsible parties are the upper management. The rank-and-file, the sales people, they are probably victims just as much as everyone else.
But to be clear, no one has been charged with any crime.
The I-TEAM has continuously reached out the owners of Riverside Chevrolet to hear their side, but we've only received two statements through a spokesperson.
The first statement received at 9:01pm May 4, hours after the first I-TEAM investigation aired:
"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."
The second statement was sent to the I-TEAM the following day, May 4, entitled "Plan of Action":
"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.(email@example.com)
"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."
As the I-TEAM reported Thursday, customers say they have tried to contact Natalie Batissa for assistance and have emailed the customer care email as listed in the statement above, but their phone calls and emails have gone unanswered.
Follow our ongoing I-TEAM investigation into Riverside Chevrolet:
May 3: Customers blame Riverside Chevrolet for ruining their credit
May 4: Jacksonville Chevy dealer responds to I-TEAM following complaints of ruined credit
May 7: Riverside Chevrolet cars burn in 'suspicious fire'
May 8: State launches investigation into Riverside Chevrolet
May 9: Riverside Chevrolet could receive $1K fines per violation
May 10: Former employees say working at Riverside Chevrolet was 'horrible'
May 14: Sources say Riverside Chevrolet to be sold following I-TEAM investigation
May 17: Customers: Riverside Chevrolet Isn't helping them, despite promise made to I-TEAM