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Bait and switch: Car dealership owners Carla Cosenzi and Thomas Cosenzi to pay $175,000 fine to settle allegations

Carla and brother Thomas Cosenzi own Country Nissan in Hadley, Country Hyundai in Northampton, Northampton Volkswagen, and Patriot Buick GMC in Charlton

Carla and brother Thomas Cosenzi own Country Nissan in Hadley, Country Hyundai in Northampton, Northampton Volkswagen, and Patriot Buick GMC in Charlton Purchase photo reprints »

However, the pair deny wrongdoing and say they believed their advertising and marketing practices to be within the law, according to Carla Cosenzi, who is president of the dealerships and the face of their advertising campaigns.

“We always felt that what we were doing was compliant; however, it wasn’t up to the attorney general’s guidelines,” Carla Cosenzi said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We used standard disclosure templates and a lot of standard advertising in the industry.”

After an investigation into complaints about four affiliated dealerships in Hadley, Northampton and Charlton, the attorney general’s office alleged that the Cosenzis regularly published or broadcast misleading advertising and failed to follow through on sales prices and promotions, which violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

The dealerships involved are Country Nissan in Hadley, Country Hyundai and Northampton Volkswagen in Northampton and Patriot Buick GMC in Charlton. They are run under Tommy-Car Management Corp., Tommy-Car Corp., Tommy Car Advertising Inc., T&C Auto Corp., Country Hyundai Inc., and Patriot Buick GMC Inc., all owned by the Cosenzis.

“We allege that these car dealers were luring consumers to their showrooms with misleading advertisements and refused to make good on the advertised sales and promotions,” Coakley said in a statement Wednesday.

Among the attorney general’s allegations outlined in a settlement agreement, filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Tuesday, the dealerships allegedly engaged in the following unfair or deceptive practices:

∎ advertising prices for motor vehicles that did not include all necessary or usual charges, such as freight, handling, vehicle preparation and document preparation;

∎ refusing to sell motor vehicles in accordance with advertised terms and conditions;

∎ advertising sales or promotions for motor vehicles without clearly and conspicuously disclosing the expiration dates as well as any other conditions;

∎ making statements in advertisements for the sale of motor vehicles that they knew or should have known were false or misleading;

∎ offering a specific price for trade-in vehicles in advertisements and failing to pay said price for all trade-in vehicles, or failing to clearly and conspicuously disclose any conditions that trade-in vehicles must have met for the dealerships to pay the advertised price;

∎ advertising that a range of prices would be paid for trade-in vehicles without clearly and conspicuously disclosing the criteria that would be used to determine any amount paid for trade-in vehicles.

According to the attorney general’s office, the Cosenzis cooperated with the investigation. The Cosenzis did not admit to wrongdoing or liability, and as part of the $175,000 settlement they were not found to have committed violations of the Consumer Protection Act. The civil penalties included paying $75,000 to the Local Consumer Aid Fund and another $100,000 to the state’s general fund within six months.

Revamped advertising

Carla Cosenzi said the investigation has led the dealerships to change their advertising and marketing practices so they are more “transparent,” as she put it Wednesday. She said the companies pulled all their advertising and corrected any future advertising as a result of the state investigation so that it meets the attorney general’s interpretation of the Consumer Protection Act.

“Anything we were doing was 100 percent unintentional and what we thought was standard automotive practice in the industry,” Carla Cosenzi said. “It has changed the way we view all our advertising prior to any publication.”

The settlement resolves the attorney general’s allegations that the dealerships regularly ran deceptive advertising campaigns on television, radio, dealership websites, Facebook and Twitter. In her statement Wednesday, Coakley’s office alleged the dealerships “engaged in a pattern of advertising that suggests bait-and-switch methods by publishing advertisements meant to entice consumers into their showrooms with sales and promotions that were not actually available.”

Under the settlement’s terms, the four car dealerships have agreed to cease and permanently refrain from nearly a dozen advertising practices, including advertising prices for motor vehicles that do not include all charges, refusing to sell motor vehicles with advertised terms or conditions and misrepresenting the price of vehicles.

They also have agreed to display all terms of advertised prices, sales or promotions “clearly and conspicuously,” and whether advertised prices relate to the purchase or lease of vehicles.

Cosenzi said the dealerships, in changing their advertising methods, have eliminated small print, for example, and are now displaying ads so that “what you see is what you get,” she said.

She said she and her brother Thomas chose to settle the case with the attorney general to avoid getting into a protracted legal battle with the state’s top prosecutor.

“We are a huge part of the community and take great pride in the community and treating all our customers fairly,” Cosenzi said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

State of Massachusetts v. Carla Cosenzi and Thomas Cosenzi Settlement

I too was lured in by a false ad. After I left their Nissan dealership I felt like I needed to take a shower. It look my rep so long to get me a price on a used car (they don't put pricing on the cars ) that I pulled out my phone and went to their website. He came back with a price $2,000 higher. I showed him the price on their site and he said, "Oh that's the online price." Right. He also told me they could match the interest rate I was given at a competitor. At the financing meeting the guy wanted me to sign a bunch of papers before we got to the rate. Naturally it was higher. His response to the reps promise was, "He shouldn't have told you that." I pushed it so he went to ask the rep who of course denied it. When I called the rep the next day, he changed his story again to say, "But my manager told me we could match it." Lies are part of this outfits company culture.

Ever since Ms. Consenzi cut me off when turning into one of her dealerships, and then proceeded to issue an obscene hand gesture in my direction, it cemented my feeling about patronizing her family establishments. I'm not surprised to read this news.

On more than one occasion I came in to purchase a car for the very low advertised price only to find the price quoted was just the total of lease payments. I was not happy. I have, however, also purchase a vehicle from them in the past and got a good deal. They did make mistakes on the financing rates but I am pretty sure that was the salesman and not the company. He no longer works there.

I can admit I got taken by them....I bought a Kia from them in Greenfield a few years ago...I signed the papers on a Sunday night and then went home that night and looked up the car online...it was a few thousand dollars cheaper online. I bookmarked the page on my phone...went into the dealership that following morning and showed them the ad. After going back and forth from dealer to managers I was told that because I had signed papers the night before I was committed to the deal. I didn't realize that that isn't true...I could have pulled out of the deal. They offered to give me 6 free oil changes for my unhappiness....no thank you. Never again will I go to them....they ripped me off...and because I didn't know the laws...I let them. I wouldn't even tell my ex husband to go to them!

Thought of going there to buy a new car recently - not going there now ! Gary Rome is looking good !

Gary Rome is an upstanding outstanding dealership.

Typical car dealership tactics. should this surprise us??

Typical Cosenzi family games when they had their SPRINGFIELD based Lincoln Mercury, Chrysler-Plymouth and Jeep store IN Agawam in the late 1980's era. If the Gazette did some research, like reporters used to they would know the history. Not all dealers play these games which give the industry it's horrendous reputation.

Most likely the AG and Ms. Cosenzi are correct! The ads were, as Ms. Cosenzi noted, standard routine practice for the automotive industry. But, as is known, and as many a late night comedian has noted for decades, that's the problem! Not gonna change though.

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