An Edmonton car dealer acted unethically when it sold a luxury SUV to a psychiatric hospital patient, says the patient’s sister and legal guardian.
Crosstown Auto Centre sold a 2014 Jeep Cherokee Laredo to her brother Sean Amer, 46, even after visiting him at Alberta Hospital, Renee Tessman told CBC's Go Public.
'It’s awful. Obviously they know he’s a mental patient, he’s in Alberta Hospital.' — Renee Tessman
With taxes, cost of borrowing, and more than $10,000 in optional warranties, services and fees, the total bill came to $65,580.48, to be financed over seven years at 5.99 per cent interest.
Crosstown arranged the financing even though Amer lives on Alberta Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) which pays a maximum of $1,588 per month, Tessman said.
The only security he offered the dealer was a prepaid credit card with a balance of approximately $500, she said.
“I was flabbergasted,” Tessman told CBC News from her home in Crowley, Texas.
“It’s awful. I mean, obviously they know he’s a mental patient, he’s in Alberta Hospital. They should have clued into that.”
Her brother has had mental illness for 20 years and was most recently diagnosed as having schizophrenia, Tessman said.
He has delusions, including the belief that he is Jesus, and often refuses to take medication because he doesn’t think he is ill, she said.
He recently became convinced he is a millionaire businessman, she said.
On Nov. 25, Amer left Alberta Hospital, saying he was going to retrieve some items from his apartment, Tessman said.
Patient on car-buying 'rampage'
Instead, he went on a “rampage,” trying to buy cars from various dealers, she said.
“Even when he was sort of well, he always had a fixation with cars,” Tessman said.
“He would go down to car dealerships, he would buy cars, he would have them for a couple of days, he wasn’t happy with it, then he would take it back. And of course he’d get hosed on it. As soon as you get it off the lot you lose $5,000. He couldn’t afford it.”
Her brother visited several Edmonton-area dealerships, but at Crosstown he was able to drive away with a brand-new SUV and a debt he couldn’t possibly repay, she said.
It was only after days of determined effort that support workers at Alberta Hospital were able to persuade the dealer to rescind the deal, she said.
Alberta Health Services wouldn’t allow staff to speak with Go Public, but sources tell CBC that Crosstown initially tried to hold Amer to the deal, saying the debt was now in the hands of Royal Bank of Canada, which financed the sale.
Tessman believes Crosstown took advantage of her brother.
“They have no ethics,” she said. “I think they’re just interested in selling cars. If they’re doing this to my brother Sean, who else are they doing this to?”
‘Nothing out of the ordinary,’ says salesman
Trevor Bannert, the salesman who sold Amer the Jeep, said there was nothing unusual about the man who phoned the dealership saying he wanted to buy two Chrysler vehicles, one each for his mothers-in-law, and a Jeep Cherokee for himself.
Amer came in a couple of evenings later, took the Cherokee for a test drive, and asked if the paperwork could be completed quickly so he could drive it home that night, he said.
They agreed on a $4,000 down payment, using $500 from his prepaid credit card and a promise that Amer’s business partner would pay the remaining $3,500 later, Bannert said.
“He said he owned this company.” Bannert said. “Fine. Who are we to say that doesn’t sound right? Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; it really didn’t.”
Once Amer was approved for financing by RBC, they signed the papers, and he put his dealer plate on the Jeep and let Amer drive away, he said.
Bannert said he learned the next day that Amer had in fact driven to Alberta Hospital after receiving a message from Amer’s psychiatrist to say the deal should be called off.
However, when the dealership’s financial office called Amer, he assured them he still wanted the car, that there was just a delay in getting the money.
Salesman visited patient at Alberta Hospital
Bannert said later he went to the hospital to retrieve his dealer plate and gave Amer an in-transit sticker, allowing him to drive the Jeep until he registered it in his name.
“At this point, we still [didn’t] know, and nor is it any of our business, what he’s in there for. Maybe he’s just a little bit depressed.”
Bannert insists there was nothing about Amer’s behaviour or appearance to suggest a mental illness.
Car dealers are bound by the Alberta Fair Trading Act, which states it is an unfair practice and an offence to “take advantage of the consumer as a result of the consumer’s inability to understand the character, nature, language or effect” of the transaction.
Crosstown has since retrieved the SUV.
Tessman said she’s thankful to her brother’s doctor, social worker and especially his nurse who fought to have the deal overturned.
“I can only thank him for being a true patient advocate, going above and beyond. He’s a godsend.”
Crosstown sales manager Robbie Gordash declined Go Public`s interview request.
In an emailed statement, he said the company cancelled the contract at no cost to Amer once it learned of his circumstances.
"Our dealership endeavours to treat all customers fairly and we believe we did so in this case and further believe that the result was the right and fair one."
John Bachinski, the executive director of the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council, says they've launched an investigation into this case.
"Obviously the code of conduct of a sales person.. requires that they are fair," he said. "The salesman has the onus to assess the ability of the person who is buying the vehicle."
The dealer could be reprimanded or face fines, if AMVIC finds that it broke any rules.