LATROBE, Pa. — A used-car dealer there is suing state police and Tri-Star Motors after he was cleared of charges that he had conspired to lower the values of trade-in vehicles so they could be sold at a lower “wholesale” price to Tri-Star.

Michael J. Bartow, the plaintiff in the case and owner of Mike’s Car Lot, formerly faced accusations back in 2009 that he and a used-car manager at Tri-Star Motors conspired to understate the value of used vehicles “in order to wholesale the vehicles to Mr. Bartow at a lower price,” according to court records.

Cpl. Edward R. Thomas with the Pennsylvania State Police discovered in his initial investigation that Tri-Star Motors lost more than $11,000 on 125 vehicles that were sold to Bartow.

“Accordingly, even assuming the veracity of the figures, defendant Tri-Star only lost approximately $89 per car in a segment of the business that frequently loses money,” stated Bartow’s complaint. The suit further argued that Thomas “did not compare wholesale transactions with Mr. Bartow to wholesale transactions with other dealers to determine whether or not similar losses had occurred.”

Tri-Star and law enforcement based the alleged undervalued vehicle listings on actual cash value (ACV), but they testified to not checking resources such as Kelley Blue Book to appraise the used vehicles, according to the lawsuit. After more than one year tied in court, Bartow claimed he was never provided the ACV statements to prove he understated vehicle prices.

In addition to the charges brought against Bartow, one of his employees and a Tri-Star used-car manager were also named as defendants in the original suit.

On Dec. 12, 2011, “all charges were dismissed against Mr. Bartow [and others] due to the Commonwealth’s failure to exercise due diligence in prosecuting the case,” according to the recent suit.

Law enforcement and Tri-Star are charged with Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution and malicious use of process.

According to the lawsuit, Bartow is seeking damages for “loss of business, damage to reputation and emotional distress,” in addition to punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

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Stephanie Forshee

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