Bill Heard Hit by Consumer Complaints Nationwide
An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation first exposed how one man's deal just disappeared at Bill Heard Chevrolet. As it turns out, the company has a nationwide record of unhappy customers.
"It just blew my mind. I almost thought it was a joke in the beginning, you know. It was almost too unreal to believe," customer Elizabeth Wilson tells NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus.
Just two days after Wilson and her husband bought a 2005 Chevy Equinox, the dealer tried to take it away, using what Wilson called fear and intimidation.
"There was no way to get out. They surrounded my car with seven people and stood in my doorframe. Couldn't start the car. Couldn't shut the door in 97-degree weather," Wilson recalls.
The Wilsons bought the car at the Bill Heard dealership in Huntsville, Ala.
But when she went back to get a typo on the car title fixed, she says the salesman suddenly insisted she couldn't keep the car because the former owner's deal had fallen through.
"I just laughed at them," Wilson says.
She refused to hand over the keys. That's when, she says, the salesmen surrounded her car while another used a truck to block her in all while her 1-year-old son sat strapped in his car seat.
"I was a nervous wreck. My blood pressure, I could almost feel my blood boiling. I couldn't believe that this was happening to me, anything like this."
Our investigation found unhappy customers just like Wilson at Bill Heard dealerships across the country.
The family-run company sells Chevys in seven states in all. Bill Heard has more than a dozen dealerships
There were literally hundreds of customer complaints against Bill Heard filed with the Better Business Bureau in the last three years.
"This is serious. This is a serious consumer issue that is out of the ordinary," says Kathleen Calligan, with the Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee.
In Nashville alone, more than 100 customers have complained about the way they were treated at the dealership in Antioch.
That's far more than any other dealer.
The Better Business Bureau said many of these customers say Bill Heard tried to take back their cars, too, just like Wilson after their deal had supposedly been sealed.
"It's misleading, and it's deceptive," Calligan said.
Attorney Barry Weathers calls Bill Heard "a cancer on the community" and says the problems reflect the company's corporate culture.
Weathers has handled more than a dozen lawsuits against the Nashville location, where he says Bill Heard employees have stolen customers' identities, used bait-and-switch schemes, falsified documents and forged customers' signatures.
"They are the worst of the worst," Weathers says.
The company has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by the attorneys general in Texas, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee yet the self-proclaimed world's largest Chevy dealer claims on the its Web site that Bill Heard is "dedicated to the principles of sound business ethics" and "long-standing integrity."
"I've seen nothing to indicate that Bill Heard, the wealthy man that's in charge of all of this, has taken any steps to make his dealership a reputable dealership that wants to be fair to people," Weathers adds.
Elizabeth Wilson says the way Bill Heard does business is no way to do business.
"How can a car company just treat people like that, innocent people? I just don't understand," Wilson says.
Wilson finally called police from her car to get out of the dealership -- with her car.
She is now suing Bill Heard for false imprisonment.
Despite the high number of complaints, there weren't many lawsuits filed.
That's because Bill Heard tells customers they have to sign an arbitration agreement where they agree not to sue and agree to have their case heard by a company mediator.
Consumer advocates say people should know they don't have to sign such an agreement to buy a car.