As a representative of irate consumers across the country, the Haggler often toils on behalf of people who want nothing more than to find executives and scream in their faces. But that opportunity is rare. Corporate leaders are usually insulated by underlings, which makes their faces difficult to find.
So for anyone who has ever wanted to confront an antagonist about a transaction gone wrong but didn’t get the chance, the Haggler has a spectacle for you. He now takes you to a room in a courthouse in Manchester, N.H. It is March 21 and it is quite a scene, if a recording of the event captures the mood.
Imagine a room packed with people who consigned their vintage vehicles to a company called Dusty Old Cars. Remember this operation? In a column in February, the Haggler wrote about the many consignors who said that Dusty Old Cars charged them for repairs that were unnecessary or never performed. Worse, many said that they hadn’t received a penny of the proceeds from the sale of their cars.
Just before the column was published, the owner of Dusty Old Cars, the ever-defiant and reliably info-taining Stephan Condodemetraky, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Soon after, a court appointed a trustee who said, in effect, that this company instead needed to be liquidated. (That’s Chapter 7.) And as part of such liquidations, creditors have an opportunity to show up and ask questions of the debtor, in this case Mr. Condodemetraky.
Let’s just say there was a lot of rage in the room. Listening to a recording of the chaotic conversation, you hear cross talk, befuddlement, imprecations, pleas for quiet, heckling and a few unprintable phrases. It is a quintessentially American scene in a quintessentially American setting. It’s what Norman Rockwell would have painted if he had hated people.
A number of consignors said that signatures on certain documents, such as bills of sale, looked nothing like their own.
“Reminding you that you are under oath, I’m going to ask you again,” says Ann Marie Dirsa of the Office of the United States Trustee. “Have you ever signed Mrs. Sletten’s name to any documents?”
Mr. Condodemetraky: “Any signatures that I made on any document ——”
Ms. Dirsa: “Uh-uh! It’s a yes or no question.”
Mr. Condodemetraky: “Yes, I signed documents to transfer vehicles. Absolutely, yes.”
Ms. Dirsa: “In a name other than your own?”
Mr. Condodemetraky: “Only with authorization.”
This produces what could be described only as widespread, skeptical hooting.
Later, Mr. Condodemetraky is asked if he could produce a list of all the cars he’d sold in the last year, to whom and for what price.
“Possibly, possibly,” he says.
“Possibly? Possibly?” the crowd shouts, in a lather, nearly in unison.
Very few people receive satisfying answers. One gentleman starts by describing a phone call in July. “We had a nice conversation,” he tells Mr. Condodemetraky. But recently, he noticed that his cars weren’t on theDusty Old Cars website. “And I just want to know, where are my cars?”
“I have no idea, sir,” Mr. Condodemetraky replies, as though he’s just been asked for the square root of a 20-digit number. “I don’t know how to answer that question.”
There was a brief silence, then someone in a position of authority says, “Ma’am, you’re next.”
At this, the crowd goes a little nuts.
“You accept an answer like that?” a man howls. “That he has no idea where the guy’s cars are? You’re under oath!”
“You’re the owner of the company,” someone else chimes in. “You don’t know where the cars are?”
“Good Lord!” howling man adds.
The Haggler stopped listening after a couple of men exited cursing Mr. Condodemetraky. One referred, with an obscenity, to Mr. Condodemetraky’s ethnic background. He got the country wrong.
It is safe to say that the man of the hour — who, according to a Superior Court ruling in a case filed a few years ago, had “attained a level of rascality that would raise an eyebrow of someone inured to the rough and tumble of the world of commerce” — retreated not one inch. He never admitted to so much as a clerical error. He suggested that if fault were to be apportioned, some should fall on the consignors, who didn’t understand the contract they’d signed, as well as the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, whose investigation, which started last year, forced him to spend money on lawyers.
A few weeks ago, the Haggler called Mr. Condodemetraky and asked if there was anything — one single thing — he wishes he’d done differently in recent years.
Nope. The Haggler tried the same question three different ways. Nope. Nope. Nope. So he tried again. “You’re asking me an open-ended question,” Mr. Condodemetraky finally responded, “and while I respect your journalistic panache, I stand by what I said on the record.”
In an email the next day, he wrote that he was “very sorry about what has happened to a very small number of my customers.”
Not long ago, the trustee in the case charged in court that Mr. Condodemetraky had computers wiped clean to thwart a full accounting of Dusty Old Cars’ inventory and history. (“The trustee’s opinion,” Mr. Condodemetraky said. “I don’t share the trustee’s opinion.”) The fate of the company is now in the hands of a bankruptcy judge, but Mr. Condodemetraky’s travails may just be starting.
James Boffetti of the New Hampshire attorney general’s office said that his office was investigating Dusty Old Cars and Mr. Condodemetraky. In particular, he is focused on cases in which consignors were charged for repairs that were not performed.
“That’s a potential fraud,” Mr. Boffetti said, “and something that we’d want to look at closely.”