Va. Car Dealer Accused Of Biased Loan Practice

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 2, 2005

Enticed by a flier touting car loans at zero percent interest and cash-back offers, Anthony Lloyd drove from his Germantown home to the Koons Toyota dealership in Tysons Corner in search of a good deal on a new car he'd designed himself online that he said would cost $20,000.

He left the dealership with a Toyota Camry financed at 16 percent interest after salespeople told him he was ineligible for a better rate because his credit was bad, Lloyd said. Monthly payments on the car exceed $688, about triple what Lloyd was looking to pay. With interest, the car will cost more than $50,000 when he is finished paying for it.

The auto dealer misled Lloyd into agreeing to a predatory loan because Lloyd is African American, according to a federal civil lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Koons declined comment on the suit but said it does not allow discrimination.

"I believe Koons took advantage of me," Lloyd said yesterday during a Dupont Circle news conference. Lloyd, who purchased the vehicle in October 2001, said he still owes more than $16,000 on the 2002 vehicle, which he said is more than the car is worth.

The 18-page lawsuit accuses Koons Toyota, which has 14 dealerships in suburban Maryland and Virginia, and specifically the Tysons Corner dealership with violating the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Consumer Protection Act.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs and with Relman & Associates, a Northwest Washington law firm that specializes in civil rights litigation.

Rick Adams, an attorney for the Koons organization, released a statement that said: "The Koons organization has been a good corporate citizen for over 40 years, with thousands and thousands of loyal customers. Koons neither condones nor tolerates racial or other wrongful discrimination of any kind."

The statement said that Koons cannot comment on the lawsuit because company officials have yet to see it and that the company will defend itself vigorously.

Lloyd, 41, works as a word processor at a downtown law firm and earns more than $52,000 annually, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Lloyd had a 630 FICO credit score in October 2001. The lawsuit contends that such a score usually makes a purchaser eligible for a much lower rate. His attorneys said that the 16 percent rate was more than double what he should have been charged.

A salesman told Lloyd that the car he had designed on the dealership's Web site was not available and suggested a $32,000 model instead, according to the lawsuit. A finance officer at the car dealer told Lloyd he was ineligible for zero-interest financing and cash-back incentives because his credit was "horrendous," the lawsuit alleges.

The finance officer told Lloyd that he could get a loan with $688.64 monthly payments, promising that if Lloyd made timely payments, he could return in a year to refinance at a more favorable interest rate. But when he returned in a year, he was told that he could not refinance, the lawsuit alleges. Lloyd returned a year after that, and again was told he was ineligible to refinance, the lawsuit alleges.

A number of class-action lawsuits that have been filed against major auto-loan companies across the country in recent years have alleged similar practices.

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