By Ashley Graves
The Cullman Times
A day after a local used car salesman was indicted by a federal grand jury for violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a Spring Hill man filed a civil suit against the same business.
Timothy Smith filed the civil lawsuit in the Cullman County Circuit Court against Carl Nuss, owner of North Alabama Wholesale Autos, contending that the auto dealer violated the Truth in Lending Act. According to Smith, he had been saving for roughly half a year to make a $1,500 down payment on a vehicle, only to have it repossessed five months after it was purchased because he couldn’t keep up with the interest rate. After further investigation by Smith’s attorney, it was revealed he was paying almost double.
Smith is seeking unspecified financial recovery and punitive damages through a jury trial. He spoke to reporters late last week at his attorney’s office in Cullman.
“They came to see me mainly about the repossession,” attorney Richard Collins said. “And when I started looking at the contract, I noticed compared to the amount financed, which was a little over $4,800, and the finance charge, which was a little over $2,400, that sounded like way too much interest. My math skills kicked in, and after doing amortization schedules, instead of the 25 percent they agreed on, it was almost 50 percent.”
In November, agents repossessed Smith’s truck after he was one day late on payment. Smith said he had been promised he could have the extra day to make a payment. The repossession happened a day after he finished his last chemo treatment for a cancer diagnosis, he said.
“When they came and took my truck they told me I wasn’t making my payments on time,” Smith said. “All of my payments were on time. I lived up to my agreement, and they didn’t. They took advantage of me by overcharging my interest and everything else. I could have bought a new vehicle for what I was going to end up giving them overall.”
A similar incident prompted the federal indictment earlier last week when Nuss allegedly refused to reduce the loan interest rate to a man who was deployed to Afghanistan with the Alabama National Guard. The guardsman bought the vehicle for $9,746 in February 2011, and after a $2,200 down payment, financed the balance at 25 percent interest per year, according to the indictment. In July of 2012, Nuss received a letter from the guardsman requesting the dealership reduce the interest rate on his car from 25 percent to 6 percent as required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. According to the indictment, Nuss never reduced the interest rate, and two days after receiving the letter, hired two men to repossess the guardman’s vehicle.
Smith has been without a vehicle since last November when his was repossessed, and has had to rely on nearby neighbors and his daughter to take him places. He’s scheduled to start his chemo treatments back soon.
“It’s been a major burden,” he said tearing up. “People get tired of helping me.”
When contacted by The Times to give his side of the story, Nuss declined to comment, and referred all questions to his attorney, Tommy Spina, in Birmingham. Spina confirmed he had met with Nuss and that the two are talking.
Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org