The attorneys for auto mogul Denny Hecker handed out copies of a lawsuit this afternoon that they say they're planning to file against GMAC, the finance giant that once offered auto loans to Hecker and his customers.
Marsh Halberg and Bill Mohrman said during a news conference that a criminal investigation into complaints by Hecker customers was GMAC's fault.
They said a Toyota dealership in Inver Grove Heights and Hyundai dealerships in St. Cloud and Brainerd showed Hecker was trying to wind down his bankrupt dealers in an orderly way, in contrast to the deals that had soured at Southview Chevrolet and Hecker's Cadillac dealership in Stillwater.
"it didn't have to be this way," said Halberg of the hundreds of people who can't get clear title or license tabs for their cars. Others are finding their trade-ins didn't get paid off, as the dealers had promised.
GMAC spokesman Michael Stoller said his company wasn't to blame. Although GMAC had legally seized some of Hecker's dealerships, Stoller said the finance company had even gone so far as to separate the tax and title payments from the car sale, so that Hecker could take the fees and send them to the state, as required by law.
"We made this very easy for Denny Hecker by requring the customer to make that portion of the transaction out to Denny Hecker, so that there was no confusion about who was remitting to the state," Stoller said in an e-mail about the suit.
In an interview, he said the company had not yet received the lawsuit from Hecker's attorneys.
The standoff, meanwhile, may leave hundreds of motorists in legal limbo.
Some, like Chris Pinotti of Minneapolis, have purchased cars only to find they didn't own them later.
Pinotti said he bought a Cadillac CTS from Hecker's dealership in Stillwater in April 2008, and wondered why he had to pay the license and title fees separately. He said he wound up paying them twice, when the state of Minnesota said it hadn't received payment for his vehicle.
"It cost me $800," he said.
Pinotti also said he was pulled over by a police officer a few months after the sale, only to be informed that he wasn't the legal owner of the car. A rental company had the title.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Andy Skoogman said today that his agency has been getting calls at the rate of one every three minutes or so, for the last day, about Hecker's car deals.
"Not all of them are complaints," Skoogman said of the 500 calls to a toll-free state number. "But a lot of them seem to be checking out."
Hecker's attorneys said they believed there were several hundred customers with outstanding sale issues, and said they couldn't explain the discrepency with the volume of calls to the state.
Halberg conceded, however, that there was some measure of "chaos" in the wake of Hecker's bankruptcy filing two weeks ago, and that not every deal had been accounted for.
Halberg also said that some mistakes were inevitable when Hecker's dealerships were in full operation, and said that may explain difficulties with deals pre-dating the GMAC takeover and bankruptcy -- deals like Chris Pinotti's.
But Pinotti says he's still waiting to be made whole for the deal he struck to buy a car from Hecker, back before the dealer's troubles started to make headlines.