Banned, fined Calif. dealer says AG’s office wore him down into settling for $1.7 million

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According to the judgment, the auto group and Paul Blanco admitted they aired at least 1,500 “Senior Gold” ads promising older consumers special interest rates and prices and no credit checks, down payments or income proof requirements. They described a partnership with credit unions for special senior rates.

But seniors received no special treatment compared with other consumers, and the group had no such partnership with credit unions, the judgment states.

“I didn’t admit to anything,” Paul Blanco said. He told Automotive News he had a role in only a single misleading ad.

Paul Blanco’s Good Car Company alone admitted to the more than 670,000 other violations described in the settlement, according to the judgment.

The group acknowledged running ads with one or more other misleading auto finance promises 650,000 times from Aug. 30, 2013, through December 2020, according to the judgment.

“The company can’t speak for itself,” Paul Blanco said of the admission. “It’s made up.”

The advertising’s inaccurate claims, according to the judgment, include assertions the group did not mark up lender interest rates and offered the “lowest” and “best” rates regardless of credit. They also include the assertion that more than 100 lenders competed for a customer’s business.

The judgment states the group acknowledged fooling lenders with 20,000 instances of “power-booking.” The term refers to a practice in which dealership employees mislead lenders about the value of a vehicle by falsely claiming the presence of features such as accessories.

Collectively, group staff padded vehicle values by more than $7 million, according to the judgment.

“Defendant Paul Blanco was aware of the power booking activity, but rather than stopping it he instead facilitated and encouraged it,” the state wrote in a complaint.

Both Paul and Putu Blanco deny any concerted power-booking efforts. Paul Blanco said the examples cited by the state could be disproved by his records. Other instances of vehicle configurations failing to match the information given banks weren’t intentional and were resolved between the dealership and the bank, he said.

The group admitted it knew of other lies by employees, according to the judgment. It said staff incorrectly claimed F&I products were mandatory, included within a vehicle’s price and “bumper to bumper” or “lifetime, despite significant exclusions and a shorter time span.

Putu Blanco said she had compliance programs in place since 2012 to check such behavior and had refined them throughout the years.

The group reported knowing about but failing to stop a high-level manager, Jeff Holt, who told customers he was Paul Blanco or a Blanco relative, “Jeff Blanco.” Holt was accused of misleadingly promising customers refinancing could be done in a year or sooner, and trained and encouraged other employees to power-book.

Both Blancos denied the state’s allegation of such refinancing promises. The behavior in question simply involved telling customers they could trade in their vehicles, they said. Putu Blanco argued that using a different name wasn’t illegal, and Paul Blanco said Holt had the authority to make the deals he did. Holt also had lived with the Blanco family for a while, they said.

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