Independence Auto Center and Best Bet Auto Sales fined $250,000

EVERETT — The operator of used car dealerships Independence Auto Center in Everett and Best Bet Auto Sales in Lynnwood has been fined $250,000 for a pattern of negotiating deals with Spanish speakers in Spanish, but then presenting a different set of terms in documents written in English, the state’s Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday.

Zein Automobiles Inc., also known as ZAG Auto Group, attracted Spanish-speaking customers from as far away as Wenatchee through ads in Spanish-language media, promising financing even for those without a credit history.

Most of the salespeople at the dealerships spoke Spanish, and half the dealerships’ sales were conducted in Spanish.

But the Zein Automobiles and its employees misrepresented loan terms, interest rates, title branding issues and warranties in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the state Consumer Protection Act, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

As many as 3,000 customers may be eligible to receive money from the settlement.

For example, all of the documents one customer signed for the car he purchased were in English, and he relied on the salesperson to tell him what he was signing. He believed his interest rate was 3 percent, when in fact it was nearly 30 percent.

Another customer, also lured by Spanish-language advertising, purchased a previously totaled vehicle, despite being told in Spanish that the dealership didn’t sell cars that had been in accidents. As most conventional banks will not finance cars with “salvage titles,” he also was saddled with a nearly 30 percent loan interest rate.

Investigators found that Zein Automobiles targeted Spanish speakers by spending the vast majority of its advertising budget on Spanish-language airtime. Some of its Spanish-language advertisements suggested ZAG Auto Group is a “miembro activo de la comunidad hispana local” — an “active member of the local Hispanic community” — to lure Spanish-speaking customers.

The Northwest Justice Project referred complaints in spring 2015 to the Attorney General Office and the office’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit began investigating.

In a consent decree filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, Zein Automobiles Inc. agreed to:

Pay $250,000 in restitution, costs and fees;

Make Spanish-language contracts available whenever it advertises in Spanish and provide them to customers when the sales transaction is conducted in Spanish;

Honor all warranties promised in its advertisements, including six-month and one-year warranties; and

Cease any deceptive or misleading practices in its advertising or sales, including making any statement that creates a false impression regarding the premise of a sale, the warranty available, the monthly payment, the interest rate or any other term of payment.

If you purchased a vehicle at one of the company’s two dealerships, Best Bet Auto Sales or Independence Auto Sales, and believe you may be victim of the discriminatory, unfair or deceptive practices detailed in this case, you can call the Attorney General’s Office at 844-323-3864. Claim forms are also available online in Spanish and English.

For a Spanish language version of the news release from to state Attorney