published Friday, August 24th, 2012

Car buyer in Tullahoma fears repo after dealership folds

A customer of a Tullahoma, Tenn., auto dealership is worried that the vehicle she purchased may be repossessed though she has done nothing wrong.

"The frustration it has put me through -- I'm too old for this," said 69-year-old Brenda Dupler of Coffee County.

The retiree said she bought her Ford Escape last month from Thompson Ford, putting down $2,000 and financing the remainder.

Later, however, she received a letter from Dunlap, Tenn., attorney L. Thomas Austin on behalf of Citizens Tri-County Bank, saying the dealership owed it money and she should have the dealership satisfy the obligation or deliver the SUV to the bank.

Dupler said the letter indicated if the attorney didn't hear from her within 10 days, the bank would repossess the vehicle.

She said she called the dealership and was told to talk to owner Lori Thompson, but the woman couldn't be reached.

Since then, the dealership has closed and its vehicles are now parked in the bank's lot at its North Jackson Street office. A woman who answered the dealership's phone Thursday said the business closed Tuesday and referred calls to Lori Thompson.

Thompson could not be reached Thursday, and Austin did not return phone calls.

Wes Fanning, a bank vice president, said the institution has the dealership's inventory, but declined further comment, citing privacy reasons.

Dupler, meanwhile, said she has called SunTrust Bank, which financed her car loan. SunTrust officials told her the bank doesn't have the vehicle's title, saying the dealership didn't send it with the paperwork.

"They said they'd turn it over to their attorney and try to locate the title," Dupler said, adding that she understands Citizens Tri-County Bank doesn't have the title either.

Dupler said the dealership has already cashed her $2,000 check.

It appears Dupler isn't alone. Nashville TV station WSMV reported that a Manchester woman had earlier bought a car from Thompson Ford and she, too, received a similar letter from Austin.

WSMV also reported that Lori Thompson said her husband died in May and she was trying to save the dealership but was having a hard time getting the bank to work with her.

Dupler said she has received a phone call from Citizen's Tri-County Bank offering an apology for the letter and saying it would send another letter stating it will not repossess the vehicle. But, she said Thursday, she hasn't yet received the second letter.

Dupler said her SUV has sat in her garage since she received the first letter and she's still worried someone may try to repossess it.

"If they don't get it straightened out by this week, I'm going to send a letter to the [state] attorney general and try to find an attorney," Dupler said.

Christopher Garrett, a Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance spokesman, said Dupler is welcome to file a complaint with its consumer affairs division. He said the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission also could become involved.

Neil MacDonald of the state Department of Financial Institutions said it is looking into the situation, and it advised Dupler to seek private legal council.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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