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July 3, 2013

Cullman used car dealer pleads guilty to violating Servicemembers Act

A Cullman used car dealer has pleaded guilty to a two-count indictment of violating federal protections for active-duty service members.

Carl Ralph Nuss, 75, of Cullman, owner of North Alabama Wholesale Autos, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 12 in U.S. District Court in Birmingham.

The two-count indictment specifically charged Nuss with violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The act restricts or limits civil actions in the areas of financial management, including rental agreements, security deposits, evictions, installment contracts, credit card interest rates, mortgages, civil judicial proceedings, and income tax payments, against service members called to active duty.

Nuss sold a 2002 Ford Sport-Trac in February 2011 to the 22-year-old man. The dealership sold the vehicle for $9,746 and, after a $2,200 down payment, financed the balance at 25 percent interest per year, according to the indictment.

“Mr. Nuss has made what we call in law a blind or open plea, which is essentially a plea without an agreement,” said Tommy Spina, Nuss’ attorney in Birmingham. “I don’t think he’s the evil person he has been portrayed to be. A lot of people don’t even know about this act that he pleaded guilty to. He has accepted responsibility and wants to make everything right.”

Spina said Nuss had ordered a repossession of the vehicle.

“I will be filing some letters with the court before the sentencing on Mr. Nuss’ behalf. He has received a lot of support from the community,” Spina said. “In taking responsibility for the act, we are asking the court to consider other aspects of his life at the time of sentencing.”

Nuss was indicted in April this year. The military serviceman was called to active duty in Afghanistan in May 2012. In July 2012, according to the indictment, Nuss received a letter from the guardsman requesting that the dealership reduce the interest rate on his car loan from 25 percent to 6 percent, as required by the act. The indictment states that Nuss never reduced the interest rate and, two days after receiving the letter, hired two men to repossess the guardsman’s truck.

The maximum penalty for each count is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

David Palmer may be contacted at dpalmer@cullmantimes.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 116.

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