Robert Connolly and Arnold Ruderman have at least two things in common: Both are Long Island-Florida "snowbirds" and each says he had a bad experience with A-Blue Knight Inc. Auto Carrier Inc., a car transport broker.
"It was a nightmare of an experience," said Ruderman, 59, a semiretired plumbing supply business owner who lives in Merrick and West Palm Beach.
The two men are among more than 400 consumers allegedly defrauded by the Bayville auto transport broker since 2005 as it "repeatedly failed" to deliver vehicles "or unreasonably delayed delivery," State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office said Wednesday. The company agreed to pay $175,000 in restitution, penalties and costs, according to the state.
Both men say that they were promised delivery in four days but the cars didn't move for weeks.
"Hundreds of consumers entrusted their vehicles to this company for safe transport, but the business repeatedly delivered little more than fraud and deception," Cuomo said in a statement. His office said it obtained a consent order against the company, which also did business as A-Eastern Connection Inc., Autotrail Transporters Co. Inc. and V&C Warehousing and Distribution Inc. Cuomo said the company is owned and operated by Marguerite Cermola and Gregory Sclafani, named in court papers as both company owners and individuals.
Cermola and her company's attorney, John Pedranghelu of Hicksville, Wednesday denied wrongdoing, and Cermola said the firm handles more than 5,000 vehicle transports a year, the vast majority with no problems. Pedranghelu said signing the consent order was not an admission of wrongdoing by his clients, adding, "They vigorously deny any of the attorney general's allegations of fraud or wrongdoing."
Cermola says she estimates but does not promise delivery times and she attributed the delays to snowstorms, the breakdown of two trucks and the loss of one trucker's license.
Ruderman and Connolly paid A-Blue Knight to ship their cars from Long Island to Florida. Said Connolly, who is 75 and lives in Melville and Bradenton, Fla., "We have an old car down here, but we wanted to take trips down to the Keys and didn't want to take a chance with the old car."
Connolly said that A-Blue Knight had his Buick Lucerne picked up Jan. 4 from Melville and that he got it back only after his son, a retired police officer, tracked it down and retrieved it for him from a storage lot in Kings Park - on Jan. 23. He said he demanded and got his $630 fee back from A-Blue Knight.
Ruderman said his car, an Acura RL, was picked up Jan. 3 and delivered Jan. 24 or 25 after he got Cuomo's office involved. He said he paid the company $1,200 for transport south and a deposit, $300, for a return trip in March.
Pedranghelu said, "My clients do not guarantee when the cars will arrive. From the get-go, the consumers are advised that they are merely a broker, not a transporter."
Pedranghelu and Cermola said that most customer complaints arise from circumstances beyond their control. "They put consumers . . . in contact with transporters," said Pedranghelu. "They have no control over the truckers. The truckers operate independently."
Cuomo's office said the consent order and judgment obtained in State Supreme Court in Mineola requires the company to pay $60,000 in restitution and $65,000 in penalties and costs to the state. It said the company must also set aside an additional $50,000 for restitution for consumers who may come forward in the future. The company still is operating.
Cuomo's announcement said customers contend that the company engaged in "multiple fraudulent acts that led to vehicles not being delivered as promised." Consumers who believe they were defrauded have until March 30 to file a complaint with Cuomo's office to be considered for restitution. They can call 516-248-3302 or 631-231-2401.