Attorney General Neronha takes enforcement action to prevent local dealer from selling unsafe vehicles

Published on Friday, January 26, 2024

Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced today that the Office has filed a lawsuit against a Rhode Island car dealership for deceptive sales and advertising practices, in violation of the state’s consumer protection law.

In a complaint filed in Rhode Island Superior Court on January 25, 2024, the Attorney General alleges that King Philip Motors, based in Bristol, R.I., and its two managers, Neil and Tammy DeAlmeida, engaged in the sale and advertising of unsafe motor vehicles, including a years-long practice of failing to obtain a state safety inspection and window sticker before offering vehicles for sale. The practice of selling vehicles without an inspection is specifically identified as a violation of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA).

As alleged in the complaint, a consumer filed a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General regarding his experience with Defendants. According to the consumer, he purchased a GMC Acadia from Defendants and immediately began to have issues. The next day, when the consumer’s 16-year-old child was driving home from school, the vehicle died at a traffic light. Instead of taking responsibility, Mr. DeAlmeida allegedly blamed the consumer for these issues and eventually became verbally abusive. After the Division of Motor Vehicles began an investigation and third-party diagnosed the vehicle with a failing engine, Defendants agreed to buy it back from the consumer.

As alleged in the complaint, instead of making those needed repairs and with full knowledge the vehicle had a defective motor, Defendants turned around and sold the vehicle to another unsuspecting consumer without disclosing the issue and prior to the vehicle passing a state safety inspection. The DMV eventually ordered King Philip Motors to buy back the vehicle.

As further alleged, another local consumer bought a vehicle at King Philip Motors but his check-engine light came on during his ride home. The consumer attempted to have King Philip Motors fix the issues nine times, but the Defendants refused to attempt any more repairs or to pay for another repair facility to “chase ghosts.” According to this consumer, Mr. DeAlmeida became physically threatening and told him that neither a private attorney nor the Division of Motor Vehicles Dealers’ License and Hearing Board “could do a thing about it.”

The Office of the Attorney General is seeking a court order to bar King Philip Motors from unfair and deceptive sales and advertising, as well as to obtain civil penalties for each violation.

“Consumer protection is just as much about safety as it is about money,” said Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. “As alleged, this dealership prioritized sales over ensuring the safety of its products. And thanks to the General Assembly, whose leadership and members strengthened Rhode Island’s consumer protection law in 2021, our Office continues to investigate and hold accountable those who subvert the law in the name of profit.”

Special Assistant Attorney General Stephen Provazza, Chief of the Consumer & Economic Justice Unit, Special Assistant Attorney General Alex Carnevale, and Investigator Tayla Martins handled the matter on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.


Auto dealer initiative

This action is part of Attorney General Neronha’s industry-wide effort to crack down on unfair and deceptive practices in the auto sales industry. The Attorney General intends to put a complete stop to practices like dealerships advertising one price on their website and window sticker, and then either refusing to honor that price, or tacking on unwanted fees and services once a customer decides they want to buy the car. To that end, the Office has published a “Buyer’s Guide” to help consumers navigate the types of fees they can expect when purchasing a new or used vehicle in Rhode Island. The page also highlights the Office’s recent work to crack down on illegal and junk fees in the auto industry.

The Attorney General’s work includes issuing notices to every auto dealer in Rhode Island about illegal price advertising, settling two lawsuits brought by Attorney General Neronha in March of 2022 against deceptive dealerships, filing a motion to enforce a Civil Investigative Demand against Middletown-based dealership Saccucci Honda, reaching a consent agreement with the former Newport-based Barry’s Auto for deceptive pricing tactics, and actively investigating several other dealers for similar practices to those described above.

If any Rhode Islanders were sold a vehicle prior without a safety inspection window sticker or were charged for a product or service in connection with their purchase of a vehicle that they did not want or agree to, we urge you file a complaint with the Office’ Consumer & Economic Justice Unit.


Deceptive Trade Practices Act

In 2021, Attorney General Neronha worked with the General Assembly to pass legislation that restored the authority of the Office of the Attorney General to protect Rhode Island consumers against violations of the DTPA. Other efforts led by the Attorney General under the newly-strengthened DTPA include a lawsuit against a solar company for allegedly scamming Rhode Islanders, a suit against a contractor for alleged unlawful behavior, halting a Certificate of Good Standing scheme, as well as other investigations.