MIAMISBURG, Ohio — The Better Business Bureau (BBB) suspended its accreditation for Ohio-based Jeff Schmitt Auto Group on Aug. 7, days after the group paid more than $500,000 to settle at least 25 lawsuits related to its F&I practices.

The group, which made national headlines last week due to the lawsuits, had an A+ rating before the bureau suspended its accreditation. On the dealer group’s BBB webpage, the bureau states: “On 08/07/2013 the accreditation was suspended due to failure to eliminate the underlying cause of complaints on file with the BBB and failure to maintain minimum BBB Rating.”

A total of 55 complaints appear on the Dayton, Ohio-BBB page, where it states: “Jeff Schmitt Auto Group has had a pattern of complaints concerning sales/advertising issues, product/service issues, guarantee/warranty issues, billing/collection issues and delivery issues.

“Your BBB contacted the company in September 2012 regarding a pattern of complaints. As of Sept. 22, 2012, the company responded to the pattern of complaints by counseling managers and line personnel to make customer satisfaction a priority and to try to preempt problems before they get elevated. The company indicated within their letter they have empowered employees to try to fix problems without management intervention.”

Attorney Ronald L. Burdge is representing the 25 affected consumers who filed suits between December 2012 and May 2013. He claims at least 25 more complaints against the automotive retailer have come across his desk since May.

The first set of lawsuits, Burdge said, came from all sorts of customers — varied credit backgrounds and types of purchases. And their main complaint stems from payment packing and soft add-on products. He claims the majority of customers learned of payment packing when they went to trade in their vehicles at local dealerships. “They can’t make a sale because of what was done to another dealership,” he said.

Burdge cited one example of an elderly married couple that unknowingly added on more than $5,000 in add-ons to their purchase of a $23,000 vehicle. “That’s a fair amount of F&I profit. It makes the industry average look pitiful,” he said.

As of press time, Schmitt could not be reached for comment. He did offer the following statement to WDTN: “Jeff Schmitt Auto Group is one the largest of dealership groups in the greater Dayton region representing leading auto and truck brands, and both new and pre-owned vehicles. We are among the largest, not only because we represent many of the most popular and successful brands, but also, because of our competitive pricing, fair dealing and strong customer relationships, often cultivated over many years and repeat purchases.

“While literally thousands upon thousands of our customers are satisfied with their purchases and terms of purchases, we recognize that, periodically, a very small number of customers may not be satisfied with their purchase or their purchase terms.

“We would hope that, when a customer has an issue, they would come to us to seek fair resolution. We also recognize that there are a handful of individuals who prefer to bring a lawsuit hoping to reap financial rewards that are often wildly out of proportion to whatever harm they may feel they have experienced. It is unfortunate that some believe litigation is their opportunity to be rewarded financially and to damage our company.”

The BBB accreditation will be reviewed on Sept. 10 at the bureau’s next board of directors meeting.

—     Stephanie Forshee