COLUMBUS, Ga. — Bill Heard Enterprises is in trouble again, but this time it's not just about the company's advertising practices.
A day after the 88-year-old dealer group was informed by GMAC Financial Services that the lender was discontinuing its floorplanning line of credit, the company learned that Georgia's Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA), a consumer watchdog agency, filed claims that the company participated in deceptive and misleading business practices, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. The court filing stems from two lawsuits filed in an Atlanta court last year.
Bill Heard Enterprises is based in Columbus and operates five dealerships in Georgia and nine dealerships in six other states. The dealer group denied the new allegations in an Aug. 22 court filing in Fulton County Superior Court. The OCA charged various Bill Heard dealerships in Georgia with failing to pay off loans on trade-ins, making the consumer liable for the bank note on both vehicles; listing nonexistent options and features to overvalue vehicles and make potential loans more attractive to lenders (a practice known as "powerbooking"); and forging customer signatures.
The charges are the latest in a string of disputes between Bill Heard and the OCA. The dealer has had to answer to the consumer agency at least 15 times in the last 16 years. In five of those cases, Bill Heard paid fines and administrative penalties totaling $279,000. The company has also faced complaints about its business practices in Tennessee, Arizona and Florida, and had its accreditation revoked by the Atlanta Better Business Bureau on June 12.
The Ledger-Enquirer reported that the company declined to say which or how many dealerships were impacted by the GMAC decision, but that all the company's dealerships remained open and the company has been working to secure new financing. Executives said in a statement that Bill Heard's current financial difficulties are a result of a "very challenging but surmountable business environment" caused by "adverse economic conditions, high gasoline prices and our traditional product mix."