WEIGHING IN – During the Schoharie limo trial, Mavis Discount Tire workers gave surprisingly candid testimony about their seemingly fraudulent practices.
Virgil Park, a former manager of the Saratoga Springs location of the national Mavis chain, admitted that the shop he oversaw billed the Prestige Limousine operator for brake work that was never done. In addition, mechanic Thomas Klingman testified that even though he never performed an inspection, he passed the stretched 2001 Ford Excursion SUV that later crashed as a result of catastrophic brake failure on Oct. 6, 2018, killing 20.
While the candor of these admissions made during the trial of Nauman Hussain shocked many, others surely nodded their heads. That’s because the described deception, even as Mavis was not on trial, may very well represent a pattern in which mendacity is Mavis’ MO.
In fact, a simple Google search quickly reveals that Mavis has settled multiple recent lawsuits across several states, in which the alleged behavior eerily echoes the lying detailed at the Saratoga Springs shop.
Now that Mavis’ own employees have recounted their fraudulent actions under oath, it’s time for the national company — headquartered in Westchester County and with locations in nearly two dozen states — to come under intense scrutiny.
If the facts warrant it, criminal charges should result from Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen’s decision last week to seek more information from the New York State Police on the Saratoga Springs Mavis’ dealings with the 2001 limo.
Regardless of what comes from Heggen’s inquiry, it’s time for Mavis as a company to come under the microscope.
To be sure, a large company like Mavis is going to face its fair share of lawsuits. In a statement, a Mavis spokesperson told me: “Mavis remains committed to providing high quality, safe, affordable services to its customers, and its billing policies are honest, fair and sound.”
But it’s clear that the mechanical malpractice in Saratoga Springs wasn’t an isolated incident.
Settled civil suits against Mavis in multiple states make this point.
At the moment, the families who lost loved ones in the Schoharie limo crash have pending civil litigation against Mavis. And, as the Times Union reported, a judge ruled in 2019 that Mavis committed fraud in relation to its work on the limo, with the company subsequently ordered to pay a pittance of $9,000 in fines.
But the Saratoga Springs shop is far from being just one bad apple.
In the past decade, Mavis has settled multiple lawsuits dealing with their alleged shoddy and/or shady practices. Sure, some of the suits, such as a $2.1 million 2016 settlement in response to allegations of sex discrimination filed by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have less to do with the actual work performed — or not performed, as it were — inside Mavis’ garages.
But other suits, including a March 2022 settlement in Georgia, involve claims that are nearly identical to the deceptive practices that the Saratoga Springs employees admitted to on the stand.
Here’s some of the language the Office of the Attorney General for the state of Georgia used when describing the March 2022 settlement:
“Consumers also complained that the business did poor or incomplete work, which sometimes worsened or caused new problems to consumers’ vehicles. Mavis then allegedly failed to resolve those problems, despite having promised to either perform additional work or provide refunds,” the news release reads.
News reports of the Georgia settlement include customers who sound as if they could be complaining about the same troubling behavior that occurred in Saratoga Springs.
“They didn’t do any of the work, and made us pay for an extra tire we didn’t need, and didn’t do an oil change that they charged me for,” a Georgia Mavis customer told the Savannah, Georgia-based TV station WTOC.
In the Georgia settlement, Mavis, which has more than 50 locations in the state, was required “to pay restitution of $15,804.63 to identified consumers; pay an additional $80,000 to be put into a consumer-claim fund for non-identified consumers who may have suffered damage as a result of the company’s alleged deceptive acts; and implement remedial measures to ensure that the company is in compliance with the Fair Business Practices Act.”
The company also had to pay $200,000 in civil penalties, according to the Georgia attorney general’s office.
New Jersey attorney Stephen DeNittis referenced the Georgia suit when filing his own client’s class-action lawsuit, which Mavis agreed to settle last fall.
“This isn’t the first time that their conduct has been questioned,” DeNittis told me.
The successful New Jersey suit, in which Mavis agreed to create a $650,000 settlement fund to resolve the suit without admitting fault, claims Mavis gave inaccurate online price estimates to customers seeking new tires. The estimates failed to include fees for tire recycling and tire pressure monitoring system service kits, the suit alleges. All in all, those extra fees, only revealed after work had been completed on customers’ vehicles, added up to little more than a few dollars per repair job. But the deception was pervasive. So far, roughly 5,500 New Jersey residents have signed on as claimants to the suit, according to DeNittis. The notice was sent to more than 120,000 customers, and claimants have until June to sign on.
“We alleged that their practices were illegal,” DeNittis said. “Our argument was that the online estimate was a bait-and-switch and deceptive because they knew there were going to be these charges and they just didn’t put them in [the online estimates].”
In the grand scheme, the alleged deceptive billing in New Jersey, as well as the oil changes allegedly not completed or botched in Georgia and in a separate lawsuit settled in 2021 in Pennsylvania, may have only caused mere frustration.
But companies like Mavis must be held accountable. The Schoharie limo crash proves what can happen when vehicles aren’t properly inspected and repaired. During the recent trial, Hussain, the limo company’s operator, was convicted of 20 counts of manslaughter in the second degree for his role in causing the crash. The fact that 20 people died because of catastrophic damage to a limo serviced at Mavis should also completely reshade Mavis’ neglect from mundane to devastating.
No, there hasn’t been definitive proof that Mavis’ actions caused the deadly Schoharie crash. But there is proof that Mavis has a record of dubious practices. Since 2021, Mavis has settled at least three lawsuits threaded together by allegations of fraud and incompetence.
Those allegations were given new voice on the stand in Schoharie, during a trial based on 20 deaths.
How much longer are we willing to wait before Mavis’ executives are forced to raise their right hands?
Columnist Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.