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Repo Men

The real deal at Neil's Finance Plaza? Buy a car, get sued.

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Jimmie Brockman was working as a warehouse supervisor in Kansas City, Kansas, when his fifteen-year-old son called to say he'd found a car he wanted to buy.

The teenager said he had seen an ad in the Thrifty Nickel for Neil's Finance Plaza that promised "Just $59 down and you drive away." But the Brockmans' car purchase in February 2000 wasn't nearly that easy.

Brockman expects to face the dealership in court for a second time this August.

When Brockman and his son were car shopping, he thought of Neil's Finance Plaza as just another car dealership -- despite the fact that its advertising clearly targets consumers in dire financial situations. In late-night TV commercials, folks who appear to have led hard lives praise Neil's for putting them in cars when no one else would. An ad in the Yellow Pages proclaims "WE FINANCE" and promises incredibly low down payments. The dealership also sells Christianity -- on the car lot, salespeople comfort distressed customers by telling them God will provide for them. The bottom of the Yellow Pages ad reads, "We Thank The Lord Jesus For Allowing Our Business To Prosper: To Him Be The Glory!"

Brockman's son, Marcus, was weeks away from his birthday and had lined up an after-school job at a Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlor. He would make just enough to pay for his own wheels.

After work, Brockman drove to the dealership on Bannister Road. There, Marcus showed him a 1993 Pontiac Grand Am with more than 100,000 miles on it.

Brockman could have been a more wary shopper. But he says he was exhausted from all the overtime at his job. After talking payments with a sales manager, he said OK. He figured his son could afford $120 every two weeks.

A Neil's Finance Plaza employee ushered Brockman into an office, produced reams of paperwork and pressured him to sign quickly. "She told me I could read it another time, later," Brockman would later testify in court. He closed the deal, then stuck the paperwork in the glove box.

When he did read the documents, Brockman was stunned. He knew that the car's Kelley Blue Book value was about $4,500, but the documents showed a purchase price of double that -- $9,395. With his $100 down payment and a 19 percent interest rate, Brockman was going to end up paying $13,475 for a car that would probably break down in a couple of years.

Since the dealership hadn't signed over the title to him, Brockman took the car back, offering to pay fair market price. The dealership refused, so he signed a release, left the car and figured that would be the end of his interaction with Neil's.

A few months later, Brockman was at work when a man served him with legal papers and said, "You're being sued by Regency Financial Corporation" -- the financing arm of Neil's.

The breach-of-contract lawsuit claimed that Brockman owed Regency $4,712. The company had been able to "sell" the car back to Neil's, but, according to its lawsuit, "The proceeds of the sale were insufficient." Regency threatened to damage Brockman's credit and garnish his wages.

Jackson County Court records show that Neil's has filed more than 2,000 such lawsuits in the past five years.

Brockman's lawyer, Dale Irwin, characterizes Neil's Finance Plaza as a "repossession mill." There, previously repossessed cars get a stock number that includes an R followed by the number of times the car has been taken back from customers. Irwin says it's common to see cars that have been cycled through the lot four or five times.

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