By David Palmer
The Cullman Times
A federal grand jury Wednesday indicted a Cullman used car dealer for allegedly violating federal protections for active duty military service members by refusing to reduce the loan interest rate and repossessing the vehicle he sold to a man who was later deployed overseas with the Alabama National Guard.
The indictment against Carl Ralph Nuss, 75, was announced in Birmingham by U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein, Jr.
The two-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges 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, owner of North Alabama Wholesale Autos in Cullman, 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.
Contacted at his residence Thursday night, Nuss said he was unaware that he had been indicted. Asked if had an attorney representing him, Nuss said, “No, I don’t have an attorney. Why would I need an attorney?”
Pressed further about the indictment Nuss said, “I know what it’s about, but I’m not going to talk about it. You need to ask the young serviceman’s mother. Now goodnight.”
In May 2012, the guardsman, a private first class, was called to active duty in Afghanistan. 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 two men repossessed the vehicle without a court order, in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the indictment contends.
The maximum penalty for each count is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
In a follow up interview with the Associated Press, Nuss, speaking in a phone interview, said the man joined the National Guard after purchasing the Sport-Trac and had his mother write a letter seeking special treatment after being deployed to Afghanistan.
"Just because this boy joined the National Guard is no reason for him not to pay me," Nuss said. "He was behind on payments when I found out he had joined the Guard."
The dealer said the guardsman still owed $4,200 on the vehicle when he had it repossessed. Nuss said he has since sold the vehicle to someone else.
Nuss said he will fight the charges, but a defense lawyer wanted $10,000 to represent him. Nuss said he won't pay.
"Before they're through with me they'll wish they never tangled with me," Nuss said. "This is a ploy by that family to steal that vehicle."
Nuss could face a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and $200,000 in fines if convicted on both counts, prosecutors said.
David Palmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.