Saturday, June 08, 2002

Woman tangled in auto scheme

Dealer's death unraveled ring

By James McNair,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. BERNARD — First she was swindled out of $14,500 by a car dealer who later died. Then she lost a court battle to keep the car. Now, Annette Lucker is firing verbal salvos at the bank that's waiting to tow the car away.

[photo] This Buick, behind Annette Lucker, is being repossessed by a bank after a leasing scandal.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Ms. Lucker's story began in April 2001, when the 68-year-old Waste Management retiree was introduced to Harry Hocks Jr., a former Buick dealer who still sold cars from an office on Colerain Avenue. She bought a 1997 Cadillac Eldorado for $18,000, paying $13,000 down.

        As he did with other customers, the late Mr. Hocks — he died in December — persuaded Ms. Lucker to let him hold title to the car while she made monthly payments on the $5,000 balance. As a kicker, he agreed to pick up taxes and tags.

        Only later did those 160 or so customers learn that they had been burned by a scheme in which Mr. Hocks gave 74 of the car titles to Firstar in exchange for loans and gave Fifth Third Bank “first priority security interest” in the cars for more loans.

        The banks caught on to the scam in early 2001 and sued for ownership.

        Fifth Third negotiated with the owners, letting them keep the cars by paying about half their value.

        But Firstar demanded that its share of Hocks' customers pay full price. Otherwise, it would seize the vehicles, as Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus allowed it to do in a May 1 court order.

        That's the dilemma Ms. Lucker faced. In a letter last September, Firstar vice president Stephen Jones asked her to surrender the car or pay $17,500 for the right to keep it. As of Friday, she said, the bank was sticking to its guns.

        “I thought I'd give it one more shot,” Ms. Lucker said. “I told them I had $9,000 in the bank and I'd offer them $8,000 for the car. They said they would not accept my offer.”

        Dennis Williams, a Cincinnati lawyer for Firstar, said Mr. Hocks is the one who should be blamed for the consumer problems. He said Firstar was willing to budge from $17,500. He wouldn't say how far.

        “We asked her to make a fair offer. She offered $8,000, and that wasn't sufficient,” Mr. Williams said. “Our research indicates that the low mileage and the condition of the car make it worth more than that.”

        “Firstar has been reasonable in dealing with these people,” Mr. Williams said, “but we have a fiduciary obligation to the stockholders, too.”

        “I feel Firstar is definitely not what they claim to be,” Ms. Lucker said. “Their ad says no one cares about Greater Cincinnati more than they do and that they'll treat us like family. Well, that's not a family I want to be part of.”


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