J.D. Byrider in Glen Burnie and Dundalk touts itself as a used car dealer that helps people with poor credit. It does all the financing with no outside bank involved.
"We go there and they let us know they could help us. Bad credit, good credit whatever credit history you had, they can help you," said Tinker Martin-Bowen.
She and her husband, Prentice Martin-Bowen, had just moved to Fort Meade, Md., where he is station with the Army. Their old car broke down in April and he was about to leave for another deployment, his third to either Afghanistan or Iraq.
"We were kind of in a desperate situation," she said.
They bought a 2002 Buick Century at nearly 21 percent interest, pushing the cost to $20,964.46. According to court documents, the dealer later canceled blaming it on "the refusal of the bank to finance the transaction."
"It was devastating. I've never had a car taken from me," said Mrs. Martin-Bowen.
The couple believed they were the victims of a yo-yo sale. That is when financing falls through days or weeks later and the deal is canceled sometimes after the trade-ins are gone.
"By doing these conditional sales agreements, you put the person in a contractual no man's land where the dealer holds all the cards," said their attorney Jane Santoni.
They sued the dealer. But it wasn't the financing that cost them the car. It was the conditions. They needed 24 personal references, 12 each; plus a Maryland driver's license, proof of residence, set up automatic payments, proof of insurance and get the missing title to one of their trade-ins. It all had to be done within one week.
"They were in default because they didn't do what they said in getting the driver's licenses and they never got us title to the trade-in," explained Ward Griffith, owner of the two J.D. Byrider franchises.
Yet court records show the dealership had long sold their trade-ins without the title, and even though J.D. Byrider's owner said it needed a Maryland driver's license to title the couple's new car, Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administration told FOX 5 that wasn't true. Griffith later called it a company policy saying "because our customers have credit issues, we want to do as much as we can to tie them to the local community."
The dealer never titled the car, sticking to the driver's license excuse and although the Martin-Bowen's received temporary tags, Maryland law prohibits that without a bona fide sale. That means all financial arrangements and any other prerequisite conditions must have been met.
"The dealers hold back on the paperwork so they don't have to go through normal channels when they decided to back off a deal," Santoni said.
Seven weeks later, the couple had the title paperwork and was inside the MVA getting licenses when the car was repossessed.
"I was having chest pains. I was having panic attacks. My wife is crying and I was confused," said Prentice Martin-Bowen.
He was in uniform, stranded and embarrassed. They called his military superiors to get a ride home.
They had traded in both their cars, and with the new car gone, had nothing. While MVA regulations prohibit trade-ins from being sold until all the terms of the agreement are finalized, J.D. Byrider got rid of them and insisted on keeping $1,000 in payments.
"One of the documents our customers sign at closing is a used car you are purchasing, all down-payments and all trade-ins are non-refundable," said Griffith.
During arbitration, a judge awarded the couple more than $3,600 for the value of the trade-ins, down payments and expenses, but said it wasn't a true yo-yo sale because the dealer unwound the sale because of other conditions not financing.
"I've been deployed three times, been through things, but nothing like this. Embarrassment from my own home country," Mr. Martin-Bowen said.
The couple sued for more, but didn't get it. What they want is for people to know what happened to them was just plain wrong.
"After they got the sale, got our money, got the trade-in, got our money, they didn't care," Tinker Martin-Bowen said.
J.D. Byrider's owner disagreed with the arbitration ruling and claims it actually lost money in the deal. The couple was able to get an emergency loan through the military and bought another car at a much better price.