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US Fidelis Files for Bankruptcy

March 30, 2010

ST. LOUIS — The company that symbolized the direct-to-consumer movement for F&I product sales has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection — ending a seven-year run for a company known for its national advertising campaign, which included the sponsorship of the Rusty Wallace NASCAR team.

US Fidelis, also known for its telemarketing sales practices, filed for bankruptcy relief on March 1 with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Easter District of Missouri. According to court records, the company owes $25.8 million in debt, and has $74.4 million in assets, $65 million of which are debts owed to the firm by the company’s two owners, Darain and Cory Atkinson.

Last year, the company claimed to have generated $246.5 million in revenue from service-contract sales. At its peak, the company employed more than 1,000 people. According to a statement on the company’s Website, officials put the number of employees at approximately 100.

The company, which once claimed to be the largest marketer of vehicle service contracts, discontinued sales of its service contracts last December – the first sign of the company’s financial troubles. The company then sold is sprawling call center in Wentzville, Mo., at a foreclosure auction in January.

Referring to itself as a “faith-based company,” US Fidelis’ troubles began to mount last April when complaints began streaming into the offices of the Better Business Bureau and states’ attorneys general over the company’s business practices. In a 36-month timeframe, the BBB received more than 33,000 inquiries and more than 1,100 complaints.

Complaints were received from all 50 states, with the largest number of complaints and reports coming from Texas, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and New York. “We continuously are receiving reports from consumers saying they have been pressured or misled into buying warranty contracts they either don’t want or don’t need, or have been left holding the bag when the claim processing company refuses to pay for costly repairs,” Michelle Core, chief executive of the St. Louis BBB, said in a press release issued by the BBB last April.

The complaints led the Missouri Department of Insurance to file a suit against the company on April 22 for ignoring a subpoena demanding that US Fidelis answer questions and provide documents related to its operations. The suit said complaints to the insurance department and other information convinced officials that US Fidelis was “engaged in acts and practices that were likely to be unlawful.”

BMW North America also filed suit against the company last July, claiming that US Fidelis used its BMW name and trademark to confuse consumers into believing that the marketer was affiliated with the German automaker. Subaru filed a similar suit in January 2009.

The company also was the target of a number of class-action lawsuits, including one filed in St. Louis that charged the company with lying to consumers about coverage, pressuring customers to sign up for plans under “a false sense of urgency,” and failing to provide the full terms of service plans.

According to a statement on its Website, the company continues to assist its customers with their existing vehicles service contracts. The statement also said Scott Eisenberg of Amherst Partners LLC will lead the company through bankruptcy proceedings as the chief restructuring officer.

Eisenberg said in a company press release that all customer contracts will remain valid and that claims will be paid out by US Fidelis’ third-party insurance and administration companies. “All contracts remain valid and customers continue to have vehicle service claims paid by these independent companies,” read the company release. “The administration companies’ funds used to pay those vehicle services claims are not affected in any way by the bankruptcy proceedings. Customers will continue to have coverage pursuant to the terms of their vehicle service contracts.”

Approximately 1,500 creditors were identified in court documents, including customers of the service-contract company who are owed cancellation refunds.

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