Country Ford’s property in Levittown was taken over by a bank after a foreclosure auction last week — unbeknownst to the dealership dynasty that owned most of it.
“I’m at wits end, I didn’t even know it was on the block today,” Michael Caruso, whose family owned 75 percent of the business, said March 8, hours after the auction.
Caruso said the Salvation Army had agreed to buy the property for $3.5 million, just shy of the foreclosure judgment of $4 million issued by a state judge in October. The sales contract was sent two months ago, he said, and he was waiting for the return of signed papers when Newsday told him of the auction.
The Salvation Army declined to comment.
At State Supreme Court in Mineola, the lender-investor, Aurora Bank, set a $2.1 million minimum for the defunct dealership’s space on Hempstead Turnpike. With no takers, the bank took ownership.
That ended the Country brand of four Island dealerships owned primarily by Caruso and his father Vincent, who started 51 years ago as a Dodge dealer in New Hyde Park. A minority owner of the property, who did not return calls, had been notified of the auction beforehand, according to Caruso.
The Country Ford space will go on the market, said Marc Lifset, the Albany-based attorney for Aurora Bank. “The owner thinks there is a buyer for the property,” he said.
Caruso said Aurora had agreed to a “short sale,” in which it would take less than owed on the mortgage after the property was sold.
Lifset said that was not true but did say a charity had been interested. He declined to name it.
Vincent Caruso, 77, did not return calls, but his daughter, Sue Ann Caruso, described her father as “devastated.”
Over the years, especially as the economy deteriorated, the Carusos’ holdings eroded as they repeatedly refinanced to keep afloat – until the lending market imploded, the son said.
For them, 2009 was a bad year, not just because Aurora started foreclosure proceedings. Ford Motors sued, saying it was owed $4 million, and seized more than 60 cars from Country Ford. Around the same time, the state tried to take the showroom assets at the two Huntington Station dealerships, saying $562,000 in sales taxes had not been paid.
In 2009, Country Mazda in Huntington Station closed, Michael Caruso said. In June 2010, Country Imports, which sold BMWs in Southampton, was turned over to creditors, he said, and then last month, Country Ford Lincoln-Mercury in Huntington Station was sold.
Caruso said he, his father and uncle, a part owner, had “hocked everything” for the business: “Every time we got to a junction where we thought of some sort of solution, a door got closed on us. I could use a door to open right now.”
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