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(Story created: 11/8/06)
At Bill Heard Chevrolet, they'll sell a car to just about anyone -- "regardless of your credit history."
Former Bill Heard manager Mary Herron says, "That's Bill Heard's philosophy, 'Everyone rides.'"
And former managers claim that means everyone rides -- even if it means breaking the law.
Another former Bill Heard manager, Glenn Radford, says he saw employees "doctoring up people's incomes to make 'em higher."
And yet another former manager who wanted to remain anonymous tells us, "It's crazy what goes on in there."
They say Bill Heard Chevrolet will literally do anything to get customers qualified for car loans.
"They will inflate the income," Herron tells NewsChannel 5 consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus. "That's increase. Fudge."
"Lie about a person's income?" Kraus asks.
Herron was a finance manager at Bill Heard in Antioch -- and she says she was ordered to do it.
"By how much?" Kraus asks.
"Whatever it takes to make the deal," Herron replies.
Herron admits she was told to do it to customers like Gayle Thompson and her daughter Pam Knight.
Thompson says she and Knight went to Bill Heard because "we needed a car."
The two bought a Chevy Cavalier from Bill Heard to get Thompson to her doctor and Knight to her weekly dialysis.
"Both of us are on disability," Thompson says.
Together they get about fifteen hundred dollars a month.
"Have you ever received a monthly check for $1,600?" Kraus asks Knight.
She reacts with shock. "No, no!"
"Have you ever received a check for $2,000 a month?" Kraus asks Thompson.
She is equally surprised and emphatically says, "No!"
Yet when we obtained their loan application, we found their monthly income had been more than doubled.
It turned out Herron had filled out their paperwork.
"Did they have any idea what was going on?" Kraus asks Herron.
In fact, the two were absolutely stunned when we showed them their loan documents that we had obtained and explained what had happened.
"Where in the world did they get that from?" Knight asks.
Former manager Glenn Radford who was a finance manager for three years, admits:
"You can't just make up people's incomes. That's fraud.... If you're asking me, is this something that, this is the only time it's ever happened at a Bill Heard store? No."
We discovered the same kind of thing happened to customer Nancy Luna.
She bought a Chevy Malibu at Bill Heard with her husband.
And, while his monthly social security check was $687 a month, when we got the Lunas' loan application, it had him making $2,687 a month.
"This is how much it says Otis was getting a month," Kraus tells Luna, showing her the application.
"No, no, no," she replies. "He never made that much."
Then there's Melissa Buck, another customer who was unemployed when she bought a Chevy Trailblazer from Bill Heard.
Buck tells NewsChannel 5, "I had no income whatsoever."
But we found her loan application had her working as the manager of a funeral home, making $80,000 a year.
The anonymous former manager tells us, "People that didn't work were actually given vehicles."
He says if a customer doesn't have a job, Bill Heard just makes one up.
Another customer, Gerald Ensley, bought a used Ford Taurus at Bill Heard.
And when we showed him a copy of his loan application, he told us one of the few things they got right was his name.
"They falsified our rent, my monthly income and the amount we was paying for the vehicle we had," Ensley says.
We showed attorney Barry Weather what we'd uncovered.
His reaction: "I call it fraud."
Weathers, though, wasn't surprised. He's settled more than a dozen legal claims against Bill Heard on behalf of customers who say the dealership has committed fraud, even identity theft.
"It's a corporate culture at Bill Heard," Weathers says. "That's the way they conduct business. They're not isolated incidents."
We asked former manager Mary Herron about what we found.
"No one's stopping it?" Kraus asks.
"Corporate is not stopping it?"
It seems the only ones who don't know what's going on are the customers.
"We would have never known if you hadn't brought this," Thompson says.
Former manager Glenn Radford says, "They'll have a customer sign a blank contract."
"It's illegal, but it doesn't matter that it was blank at the time. Prove it. Prove it was blank at the time. I've got your signature on it."
Gayle Thompson says, "That's crooked."
For Thompson and her daughter, Pam Knight, their car has come with a hefty price.
"They were trying to pay for a car that they couldn't afford to pay for so they didn't have gas money to get to dialysis or money to buy food with," Herron says, recalling a telephone call from a social worker on behalf of the two women.
Thompson admits, "We've been through hell trying to pay for it."
And no car, they say, is worth that much.
When we asked Bill Heard about what we uncovered, the company didn't dispute our findings.
But they insisted such practices violate its own policies.
They say, "If we find any proof of wrongdoing, we will take swift and appropriate action. We are working very hard to correct any problems of the past."
They say they still want to hear from customers and try to solve the problems.
But Pam Knight and Gayle Thompson recently had their car repossessed.
They say they asked Bill Heard to help them, but got no help at all.