US dealership sues after ‘kick-back’ claim

A Mercedes dealership accused of demanding a ‘mafia-style’ bribe from a New York bodyshop in exchange for renewing an OEM certification sponsorship has fired back with a defamation countersuit.

An attorney for Celebrity Auto of Westchester accused North State Custom and owner Greg Coccaro Jr of acting ‘in reckless disregard for the truth when they made their false allegations.’

The countersuit filed against North State Custom and Coccaro brings claims for defamation, trade libel, false light, and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage in response to a North State Custom press release and interview regarding the litigation.

It also alleges abuse of process for filing the lawsuit with an ulterior motive ‘to make ‘a significant impact on the collision repair industry.’

In response, North State Custom attorney Anthony Mamo said, ‘Truth is a defence, and we’ll see you in court.’

North State Custom’s original lawsuit said that when it pursued Mercedes collision repair network recertification earlier this year, ‘Celebrity’s service manager and bodyshop coordinator responded that although Celebrity had been advised by Estate Motors, Inc. that North State Custom does excellent work, they (Celebrity’s representatives) wanted to know what percentage of each Mercedes-Benz automobile repair North State Custom was willing to kick-back to Celebrity in exchange for Celebrity continuing to allow the MBUSA-North State Custom relationship to continue.’

Greg Coccaro says the dealership sought a 25% payment on labour and to make 100% on parts sold to North State Custom.

The lawsuit said that, ‘Celebrity’s bodyshop coordinator also informed North State Custom’s representatives that Celebrity would no longer be selling the parts required to repair the vehicle to North State Custom but rather, Celebrity would be giving the parts to North State Custom and Celebrity would then charge the customer or its insurance company for the repair parts and receive the entire mark-up on those parts, with North State Custom receiving nothing from the sale of those parts.’

It also claimed that dealership sought to upend the claims process by demanding that ‘whenever a Mercedes-Benz vehicle comes into Celebrity for a repair, that vehicle would be evaluated for repair at the Celebrity Dealership by Celebrity employees who would write a repair estimate and arrive at an agreed repair price with the customer or his/her insurance company and then send that car to North State Custom for it to do the repairs in accordance with Celebrity’s estimate of repair.’

However, the countersuit said, ‘North State and Coccaro communicated such claims to third parties, other than Celebrity, with the intent of lowering Celebrity’s general reputation in the community and/or deterring third parties from associating with Celebrity.

‘We intend to hold North State and Coccaro accountable to the fullest extent under the law. Suing a business and seeking to harm its reputation and recklessly utilizing false facts is not something that should go unpunished.’