Here’s the text of the Times Union story:
January 27, 2009
By Christen Gowan
A Slingerlands woman has filed a $5 million class-action lawsuit against Fuccillo Automotive Group Inc. for allegedly selling fraudulent insurance policies on theft protection.
Heidi Seekamp, who bought a new Hyundai Elantra from Fuccillo Lincoln Mercury Hyundai in Schenectady in May 2007, alleged in the lawsuit, filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Albany, that she was sold an insurance policy covering window etchings called an Auto Theft Security Discount Guarantee.
The policy, sold for $295 per car, could have been purchased by at least 17,000 Fuccillo customers in the state over the last three years, according to the suit. Fuccillo, based near Watertown, operates more than a dozen dealerships in New York.
If a vehicle couldn't be located after being lost or stolen, the policy would pay $2,000.
"The allegation is that it's a companywide practice," said Sergei Lemberg, a consumer protection attorney based in Stamford, Conn., who is listed as the lead attorney in the suit. "That's based on some research that we have done."
The insurance policy would be legal in most cases, Lemberg said. But Fuccillo used Universal Automotive Services Inc., an insurance underwriter not authorized to do business in New York, to facilitate the policies, according to court documents.
The suit states that Fuccillo etched a car's vehicle identification number onto the driver and passenger side windows. The etchings are designed to serve as a theft deterrent because a VIN is traceable by law enforcement agencies, making it harder for a thief to sell the parts of a car with etchings.
Owner Billy Fuccillo said by phone Saturday that he had no knowledge of the suit and had not yet been served with court papers. The car magnate, known locally for his boisterous personality and television commercials, said he received a call from the state attorney general's office about a year ago, asking him to stop using the window-etching policy.
"They asked us to get away from selling that product," he said. "We said 'No big deal.' It's not even worth arguing about it."
Lemberg said the size of the class in the lawsuit will be determined through a formal discovery period. Fuccillo customers affected by the policy will be contacted through the mail, he said.