House Ethics Committee still investigating Buchanan

7:04 PM, May 9, 2012   |    comments
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SARASOTA, Fla. - The U.S. House of Representatives has moved D-Day for Sarasota Representative Vern Buchanan to another day, but the 10 News Investigators have found out this may be only the beginning of the congressman's troubles.

We have found lawsuits, depositions, and documents from whistleblowers that his car dealerships are rife with problems.

"He will say it is a political witch hunt," says consumer advocate Duane Overholt, even though he maintains politics have nothing to do with the allegations that Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan has been breaking the law for years through his auto dealerships.

"Many of the people in the business felt uncomfortable with the practices, but they went along with it and then went along with it because they were fearful of their jobs," said Robert Stok, an attorney representing one of Buchanan's ex-partners.

Stok is glad the truth is finally coming out through lawsuits filed by former employees.

Carlo Bell was a finance manager and says it was common practice to falsify income on credit applications, falsifying proof of residence, falsifying proof of income, and altering financial documents after they were signed. "It was the Wild, Wild West and I knew it was only a matter of time before something was going to happen," said Bell.

Another former financial manager Melissa Hacker says in her lawsuit Buchanan's dealerships routinely lied about equipment that wasn't on cars, told the manufacturer cars were sold when they actually weren't to get rebates, and included extra charges for customers.

She and several others contend in lawsuits that Buchanan brought in eight illegal aliens led by a man named "Tony" to do stone work on his house. They were supposed stay out of sight.

"Vern came over one time and saw him and turned white as a ghost. They used to live in the used car building where accounting was housed at the time," said Hacker, adding that Buchanan's dealerships were routinely guilty of deceptive business practices in the electronic tag processing filing fee by overcharging customers.

"I know I sound like an idiot because even talking about this stuff makes me feel it was like (I should) go take a shower or something. It was the worst experience of my life."

Hacker maintains in her lawsuit that Buchanan attended every monthly management meeting and knew what was going on in the stores. In addition, his attorney Robert Ornstien warned the dealership in 2003 that they were illegally getting over payment of tags and title fees from customers and said it would be beneficial to stop the practice immediately.

According to the witnesses and the documents we obtained, even though Ornstein told them to stop they never did. The state can fine a dealership up to $1,000 for each time it overcharges the customer, whistleblowers says it was so lucrative the practice never stopped.

Congressman Buchanan denies he did anything wrong and has settled several lawsuits filed by former employees, but those who are still pursuing legal action say the congressman is using all his power to keep the truth from coming out.

"We're just seeking a level playing field so all the truth can come out and Mr. Buchanan is seeking to block that so the truth can never come out," said attorney Stok.

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