DA Investigates Dealership, Finally

Ronald Hill's car dealerships are alleged to have wreaked havoc on more than 30 customers' credit scores and spurred at least 18 lawsuits alleging fraud and theft. The complaints claim Hill and his top executives failed to pay off loans totaling more than $400,000 on cars that his customers traded in.

Now, investigations into the fraud charges may be advancing - in criminal court. On March 22, Gwinnett County Police investigator Ted Conlin confirmed that the district attorney's office is requesting documents from Hill's Metro Dodge dealership in Snellville.

The district attorney's office appears to have done a 180.

Two weeks ago, when CL first reported on the alleged scam, district attorney investigator Dick Hinson said the office wasn't pursuing any criminal charges against Metro Dodge; Conlin told CL that charges wouldn't be filed because the case was a civil, contractual dispute. But that might no longer be the case, thanks to the persistence of some of the alleged victims.

What's more, on March 9 (after CL went to press on the first story), the state Department of Revenue seized Hill's University Lincoln Mercury dealership in Athens after it failed to pay almost $218,000 in liens to Athens-Clarke County. That was the second of Hill's dealerships to be shut down in less than a month. In February, Metro Dodge was closed after it too failed to pay almost $1 million in liens to Gwinnett County.

Department of Revenue spokesman Charles Willey said Hill's third dealership, University Ford-Mazda in Athens, is still open, though there is a lien against that business, too.

The district attorney's investigation comes 10 months after initial complaints surfaced - and three months after the office initially dismissed the case. In addition, despite complaints filed in May with the state Department of Consumer Affairs the attorney general's office didn't begin lookint at the case until March. The office has since filed a judgment to allow the government to seize Hill's assets.

Lawyers representing Hill's customers have criticized Gwinnett authorities and state officials for not launching timely investigations into the dealerships' actions. While the investigations lagged, the credit scores of those who did business with the dealerships plummeted.

Gina Clemente, who traded in a pickup truck for an SUV at Metro Dodge, is trying to restore her credit score, which sank from the mid-600 range, considered "good," to the low 500s, considered "poor." Clemente claims Metro Dodge never paid off the loan on her truck, despite a contractual obligation to do so.

"I hope I finally get an answer [from the Gwinnett DA's office]," Clemente says. "It's about time for someone to do something."

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