Dept. of Justice accuses car dealer of predatory credit practices

by: Nate Stewart Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A lawsuit filed Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice and North Carolina's attorney general accuses the owner of two Charlotte car dealerships of racism, specifically over-charging African-American customers for cars and high-interest rate loans.

Zuhdi Saadeh refused to answer Channel 9's questions Monday regarding the lawsuit filed by state and federal officials against his car dealerships, Auto Fare and Southeastern Auto.

The lawsuit claims Saadeh would routinely target African-American customers with poor credit, selling cars higher than their suggested values, and requiring customers to pay lopsided down payments and unusually high-interest rates.

The lawsuit said, "Indicating that he was specifically interested in African American customers because he perceived them to be of 'inferior intellect' and to have fewer options for credit and thus more likely to accept the terms of the installment sale contracts."

In one example the lawsuit said Auto Fare purchased a 2001 model year car with 115,629 miles on at an auction for $7,610.

Auto Fare sold the car to a customer for $12,900, then charged a 29 percent interest rate -- the highest allowed by state law.

If the customer made the 87 bi-weekly payments of $200 on the financed amount, the customer would have paid a total of $20,013 for the car.

"I think the Department of Justice has wrongfully charged into this," said Kathi Lucacii, Saadeh's attorney.

Saadeh's attorney denies any of the allegations and said each customer purchasing a car from either of Saadeh's dealerships is offered the same interest rate regardless of their race.

"He offers the maximum rate allowable under North Carolina law, so he's not in violation in state law," Lucacii said.

Saadeh did not comment Monday.

The civil suit also claims the dealership used GPS devices to locate and repossess vehicles without telling customers.

Lucacii said that is not true and that all customers sign a GPS acknowledgement form before purchasing a vehicle.

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