AG's office comes down hard on local auto dealership group

SEATTLE -- The attorney general's office dropped a huge fine and tough penalties on a local auto dealership group after a KOMO Problem Solvers investigation exposed serious issues earlier this year.

In scathing legal action announced Thursday, Whitney's Auto Group has been ordered to change its tactics and pay up.

Mary Lobdell and the AG's Consumer Protection Division have been tracking Whitney's since 2007 for allegations and complaints for deceptive trade practices, misleading advertising and bad deals.

In January, the Problem Solvers went undercover to expose what tipsters had told us: That Whitney's and their affiliates appeared to be using out-of-state companies in tent sales to drum up business.

"At the beginning, they said that this was an auction, but that was it," Maria Victora Peeler told us in January. "There was no details."

Peeler says no one with Whitney's or the tent sale gave her a straight answer. She wanted to buy a truck, but felt she was getting the run around. She says sales people wanted her personal information before they would even tell her the price of the truck.

It's the same pitch they gave us in person.

The State of Washington says that's not how sales are supposed to go. In a signed agreement, Whitney's must train staff properly, be more truthful in advertising and make sure its tent sale contractors play by the rules. They also have to pay the state $100,000 in fines.

"It's our intent to make sure that they play fair in the playing field among other dealers and with consumers," Lobdell said.

Whitney's had no comment Thursday. Lobdell doesn't want to shut them down, just make sure they give everyone a square deal.

"There are many great dealers out there and we're hoping that Whitney's will be one of those great dealers and the whole purpose of this is to put them on the road to that end," Lobdell said.

The attorney general's office cautions buyers to ask a lot of questions during every step of a deal, and not to hand over any personal information until you get those questions answered.