Think You’ve Been Scammed By Aamco Transmissions?

Posted in Investigative Journalism on September 26, 2009 by A.L.I. Editor and Senior Investigator

A Pre-Trial Forensic Examination

For Consumers, Franchisees, Attorneys and Law Enforcement

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 PREAMBLE

This website contains information intended by federal and state governments for the benefit and protection of the general consuming public, including prospective franchisees, when dealing with Aamco Transmissions. However, some information provided here may be fully and properly interpreted only by a competent attorney. Additionally, the author’s federal lawsuit against Aamco Transmissions Inc., as referenced here, has yet to be adjudicated on the merits. As such, we cannot stress enough the importance of having your legal representation review and advise upon the information provided herein.

Have you ever complained to Aamco’s corporate headquarters and were told “there’s nothing we can do”, or other similar statement? Indeed, not only is there something they can do, there are steps of due diligence government agencies have ordered them to do!

Now available here, at no cost to you, are some of the contents of a two-year investigation conducted by a former state licensed private detective with respect to alleged fraudulent, unfair, and deceptive acts and practices of Aamco. This site is designed to provide multiple levels of information for consideration by consumers, prospective franchisees, their respective attorneys, and law enforcement agencies. Among other things, it lends consideration and support for the elements necessary to maintain the most common causes of action found among consumer complaints against Aamco. Our desire is for the information contained here to be consumer friendly, while providing material information for those qualified to adjudicate law.

First, so that you know you’re not alone, we’ll navigate through a brief glimpse of Aamco’s troubled history to bring you up to speed, followed by a profile of the actions taken by federal and state authorities to protect consumers, and their attempt to enjoin Aamco’s abusive practices. We’ll take a look at federal and state franchise disclosure laws, and compare them to Aamco’s compliance with such laws. Then, under the provisions of currently effective but long-suppressed government injunctive orders, we’ll address the issue of attaching both direct, and vicarious liability to Aamco for the unfair and deceptive practices of its franchisees. Among other important examinations, we reveal how the issue of resolving customer complaints has previously been dealt with, and the implementation of court-ordered resolution programs provided for. Once briefed here, you’ll be better equipped to navigate our site to obtain that information in which is best suited to your needs.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!

man-3.jpgEX-P.I. EXPOSES THE FRAUD

Soon after opening its doors, Aamco began defending itself against allegations identical to some that persist even until today. In October, 1967, just a few years after Aamco began its franchising operations, the State of Minnesota took action against the company, along with 14 franchise operators, by filing a complaint styled State of Minnesota v. AAMCO Automatic Transmissions Inc., et al, charging them with fraud, deception, and misrepresentation by selling unneeded rebuilt transmissions. That litigation resulted in the signing of a consent order barring Aamco’s deceptive sales practices. Less than two months after that action, the State of New York entered a consent judgment against the franchisor also governing its advertising, repair, and servicing of transmissions. Aamco’s 2009 Franchise Disclosure Document declares both state orders currently in effect, with each requiring the company to maintain compliance programs.

After those 1967 events, and continued consumer complaints, further responsibility by Aamco for fraudulent business practices was addressed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1970, followed again by a 1987, multi-jurisdictional state action.

Arising respectively at the U.S. federal level, and as a 14 state investigation brought through the National Association of Attorneys General, those investigations culminated in the signing of additional orders upon which Aamco agreed, among other things, to monitor, control, and prevent the acts and practices of its franchisees that result in abuse of its customers. Fourteen months after Aamco signed the 1970 FTC order, the franchisor admitted to 233 violations of its terms.

In 2005, the Encyclopedia of White-Collar & Corporate Crime, by Lawrence M. Salinger, Ph.D., examined the events in which triggered those government actions. It chronicles Aamco’s alleged “35-year history of defrauding consumers with unneeded overhauls and unhonored warranties”, and looks back at a 1989 event in which some franchisees considered filing a class action suit, alleging the company “failed to provide technical support and harassed franchisees who refused to sell unneeded repairs to consumers”.

According to a March, 1990, news article reported at Philly.com, by Richard Burke, some of the most serious allegations filed by a group of franchisees in U.S. District Court stemming from that 1989 matter is that, despite the federal and state investigations, Aamco continued to employ a bait and switch scheme to sell its customers unnecessary services, and that an officer of the corporation allegedly threatened the life of Aamco’s former chief investigator, Kenneth L. Fontaine, if he turned over information about the company’s business practices to government authorities.

THE GOVERNMENT ORDERS

While those federal and state orders have been under the radar for decades, they are now available on this site. For the December 17th, 1970, FTC Complaint, Decision and Order, docket #8816, regarding federal allegations of Aamco’s abusive sales practices, click here. To read the FTC Complaint, Decision and Order governing Aamco’s sales of parts, equipment, merchandise and services to its franchisees, click here.

With regard to the 14 state investigation resulting in the February, 1987, consent judgments (names of the states provided later), the Milwaukee Sentinel reported in its February 19th, 1987 edition, that then Wisconsin Attorney General, Donald J. Hanaway, stated at the time those investigations were conducted there was evidence nationwide “that Aamco service centers recommended or performed unnecessary repairs 73% of the time”…and… “By selling [the] transmission tear-down or removal service and by withholding information on prices until the transmission had been removed, AAmco obviously could hold customers hostage while pursuing the sale of hundreds of dollars worth of rebuilding services”. State investigators determined that Aamco’s diagnostic inspection service placed its customers at an unfair bargaining disadvantage and that “customers really had no choice because their transmissions were torn down and were on the bench”.  Hanaway went on to say his own department experts insisted that up to 95% of transmission repairs could be determined without dismantling the transmission. State investigators reportedly found Aamco’s sales practices to be “unconscionable”.

Even though fourteen states entered the judgments against Aamco in 1987, during a later action entitled Robert Layton v.  Aamco Transmissions Inc. (D. Md. 1989), U.S. District Court Judge, J. Frederick Motz, stated in a July 25th, 1989 memorandum that: “[w]hen it decided to enter into the consent judgments in February, 1987, Aamco also decided to require all of its franchisees, wherever located, to follow the modified procedure”.

Those judgments, filed February 18th, 1987, in the trial court of the county wherein each participating state capital exists, and declared as currently effective within Aamco’s 2009 Franchise Disclosure Document, were not located online anywhere. Fortunately, the author’s investigation brings them back to the surface, and the full text of the order is now available by clicking on “The 14 State Consent Judgment” pages and sub-pages of this website (Louisiana shown, but all 14 state orders contain identical substantive terms and conditions. You can also magnify the pages by clicking on them for easy reading).

During the author’s federal lawsuit, Aamco argued that the December, 1970, federal consent order expired on January 2, 1996, under the FTC’s sunset policy. While that matter has not been adjudicated, supra, the author’s investigation uncovered provisions contained in section 20.2 of a 2006, 15-year term Aamco Franchise Agreement requiring the franchisee to adhere to those FTC orders when dealing with the public. Additionally, during a U.S. District Court action entitled Aamco Transmissions Inc. v. Michael L. Schwartzwald (E. D. PA. 2005), Aamco’s Director of Consumer Affairs stated in an April, 2005, sworn Affidavit that, among other duties, he: implements and monitors compliance with various regulatory requirements, including a 1970 Decision and Order, No. 8816, with the Federal Trade Commission”. And in Aamco Transmissions Inc. v. Mark E. Baker, U.S. Dist. (E. D. PA. 2006), court records contain a November 28th, 2006, Notice of Franchise Termination letter exhibited by Aamco, citing the franchisee as having violated the FTC orders under the terms of a July, 2003, Franchise Agreement. Notably within that letter, while not referencing the order by name, Aamco cited the franchisee, inter alia, as having violated section “20.2″ of the Franchise Agreement (FTC order acknowledgment), but failed to aver those allegations within the four-corners of the Complaint, which is dated November 29th, 2006. Such legal maneuvering could provide the appearance of Aamco enforcing the orders, while avoiding pleadings that would likely provoke full discovery of the matter.

If you’ll permit a brief sidebar, I would like to say it took quite an effort to locate the elusive FTC orders. I was astonished to find the 40-year-old document on the internet, in which is buried deep within the FTC website. The author is happy to provide the direct link for you on this site. The FTC is also a great place to file your complaint. They tout themselves as “the nation’s consumer protection agency”, and their website provides convenient online electronic complaint forms which you can access by clicking here. If appropriate, informing the FTC your complaint alleges violations of the terms and conditions of the December 17th, 1970 Consent Order, in the matter of Aamco Automatic Transmissions Inc., docket # 8816, may help prosecute your complaint. We cannot stress enough the importance of taking 5 minutes to fill out the FTC complaint form. You’ll be glad you did! Another very effective way to fight white-collar crime at the corporate level is to file a complaint, with a request for the empaneling of a federal grand jury to investigate any possible criminal conduct, with the Fraud Section of the United States Department of Justice, click here for that information, or with the United States Attorney General’s office, click here for that information.

LOOKING FOR LOCAL ASSISTANCE?

OK, let’s get back to work! To determine if your state is one of the 14 states that signed the 1987 consent judgment with Aamco, click on the “Demanding A Refund?” page of this website. If your car was serviced at an Aamco Transmission shop within a state enforcing the orders, you could consider demanding a refund through your state’s Attorney General’s office under the terms of the order (see “Demanding A Refund?” page).

Regardless of where your automobile was serviced, the state you live in may have Franchise Disclosure or Business Opportunity Sales laws with bond or trust account provisions to protect the consumer. If so, you could consider contacting your state’s designated agency and informing them you’re thinking about filing a claim on Aamco’s bond or trust account, and need the name and address of the surety company or trustee to get started. Or, you can simply click here to go directly to our on-line Complaint Department.

However, an attorney can likely best calculate and apply law to all damages you may have incurred, and, the author has reviewed chronic complaints nationwide alleging everything from incompetent repairs (see The “Experts” at Aamco page), to extortion, fraud, and even physical assault! By the sheer number of complaints filed against the company, including those of federal and state authorities, it appears the fraudulent practices of Aamco’s past have not been sufficiently deterred. With the advent of the internet, a person only needs to google “Aamco fraud” to get a good look at alleged practices of Aamco today, versus past allegations.

HOW CAN THIS SITE HELP MY ATTORNEY?

The challenging part, however, is finding a way to hold the franchisor responsible for the unlawful acts and practices of its independent franchisees. Although the means of which are thankfully provided in law, attaching liability to a franchisor, whether through direct or vicarious theories of liability, such as agency, is a complicated matter best left to a qualified attorney.

The problem is, there are two main obstacles with automobile repair lawsuits right out the door. First, attorneys’ need to feed their families just like you and I, and simply put, there just isn’t enough money involved to justify litigating with a single repair shop. Secondly, lawyers normally aren’t experienced detectives having the time, money, or resources needed to conduct a pre-litigation investigation to mitigate the risks associated with prosecuting the franchisor. Indeed, the contents provided in this website reflect more than two years of very costly and time-consuming legwork. Moreover, because of the high costs, attorneys usually don’t hire a private detective to carry out such fact-finding inquisition under such circumstance. Most law firms simply rely upon the discovery period of litigation to obtain whatever documents and things they can using their discovery tools. Unfortunately, this presents risks of the complaint failing upon a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, or failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Many attorneys, for good reason, simply are reluctant to take such risks, fearing hundreds of billable legal hours lost upon a defendant’s successful motion for summary judgment.

As such, your legal representation is invited to begin their inquiry by examining this website. AamcoLawsuit believes the collective information provided here should go a long way towards addressing any concerns an attorney may have with respect to attaching both direct and vicarious liability to Aamco for the abusive practices of its franchisees.

So, when you call your attorney, don’t forget to give them this cause-supporting website address, Aamcolawsuit.wordpress.com.

THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE, FREE of CHARGE!

Our pages cover topics ranging from Aamco’s recruitment of state prisoners into its workforce (some of which having been convicted of the worst imaginable crimes), to examining Aamco’s FDD statements, and the disclosure, implementation and enforcement of long-suppressed government injunctive orders.

Among other things, consumers can file on-line complaints with their respective state agency, learn about entitlements and complaint resolution programs afforded under court order, and learn about filing claims on Aamco’s bond or trust accounts. A franchisee or prospective franchisee can read comments by current and former shop owners, review Aamco’s FDD and Franchise Agreement, research Aamco related lawsuits, contact past and present franchisees, and direct any relevant information contained here to an attorney for legal consultation. Attorneys can review our website and be confident that ample consideration was given during the gathering of evidence necessary to support the fact elements of the most obvious causes of action against both franchisor, and franchisee. There’s even a page reserved exclusively for law enforcement!

You’ll need to carefully read the federal and state orders provided here, and navigate this site’s pages that most appropriately address your interests. Each page is designed to be materially informative, and provides the results of our investigation related to such information.

PAY IT FORWARD!

After interviewing many of Aamco’s complaining customers in their homes, and businesses, and having seen so much damage caused by such abusive practices, I gladly provide, free of charge, these investigation results to my fellow citizens having incurred abuse by Aamco. If you feel you have been scammed by Aamco Transmissions, it is the author’s opinion this website provides the ammunition necessary for you and your attorney to fight back. During the years as a private detective, had I been retained by an attorney to locate tangibles to attach liability and prosecute Aamco, I would have been satisfied to close and bill my file based upon the disclosures contained in this website. You can simply direct your legal counsel to this site, and he or she can advise you from there.

Lastly, we hope the remainder of your visit with us is helpful to your research in some way. We kindly request you take just a moment or two and share a few words regarding the specific Aamco location you visited (click “comments” below). It could keep unsuspecting consumers safe from the harm you may have incurred.

Together, with the help of the internet, we will accomplish that which federal and state governments intended, and bring discontinuance to these unlawful and injurious practices by Aamco.

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  Distinguished Visitor List

Aamco Lawsuit Investigation takes this time to acknowledge some of its most distinguished visitors over the years. Special Thanks go out to Mr. Jonathon Fortman and Ms. Kelly Spann of the law offices of Jonathon E. Fortman for their dedicated and devoted efforts on behalf of franchisees of Aamco Transmissions. ALI also extends Special Thanks and our deepest gratitude to the franchisee advocacy web site, Unhappy Franchisee, for its unwavering devotion and compassion for franchisees and the common concerns we share.

 
1.) The Executive Office of the President, Washington D.C.
2.) The United States Senate
3.) The Federal Trade Commission
4.) U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
5.) U.S. Department of Homeland Security
6.) The United States Attorney General’s Office
7.) The Federal Bureau of Investigations
8.)  U.S. Department of Justice
9.) The United States Veterans Administration
10.) The U.S. Small Business Administration
11.) State Attorney General Offices
12.) U.s. House Of Representatives
13.) Private, Highly Acclaimed and Super Lawyers

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    ALI Launches Operation: POUNCE!

January 22nd, 2014 – In its latest consumer and franchisee advocacy campaign, Aamco Lawsuit Investigation has launched a massive multi-stage initiative to help bring redress to those abused by Aamco Transmissions. ALI has called upon federal and state governments across our nation to investigate the criminal and civil allegations of abuse that consumers and franchisees have maintained for years. In the first stage of this campaign, ALI has addressed letters to more than 45 federal and state governments demanding immediate action. Below, you can monitor the 6 stage “pulse” of Operation POUNCE.

Operation POUNCE!Current Status of Operation POUNCE:

Stage 1.)  Forward demand letters to all respective Federal and State regulatory agencies for investigation and restitution for consumers and franchisees: Status- INITIATED.

Stage 2.) Forward request to the National Association of Attorneys General (Consumer Protection Committee) to revisit the 1987 collaborative efforts that enjoin Aamco’s fraudulent business practices, and to ensure compliance and enforcement of those court orders: Status- INITIATED.

Stage 3.) Follow-up letters addressed to the Governor of each respective State to help ensure State Attorneys General prompt and appropriate action: Status- INITIATED.

Stage 4.) Reasonable pause (normally 4 to 6 months) to allow investigations to be completed: Status- INITIATED.

Stage 5.) Requests under Federal and State freedom of information laws for investigation progress, results and supporting documents: Status- SCHEDULED- August 11th, 2014

Stage 6.) Grade individual government actions and publish findings and results on ALI’s 50 State Attorneys General Report Card page: Status- Awaiting Scheduling.

While ALI continues its monitoring and communications with the vast majority of authorities, we encourage consumers and franchisees to support ALI’s efforts by writing a short letter of support to the following three email addresses (don’t forget to add a link to ALI):

Stop Aamco’s Abuse!

U.S. Department of Justice, Fraud Sectionffetf@usdoj.gov

The National Association of Attorneys General, Consumer Protection Committee - Attention: Mr. Mark Neil – MNeil@naag.org

Federal Trade Commissionantitrust@ftc.gov

Emailing your letters of support for ALI’s call to action to all three agencies will greatly increase this effort! Thank You for your help.

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A.L.I. has been granted an exclusive license to the comments posted on this site. They may not be copied or reproduced without our written permission!

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