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Car dealer became ‘physically threatening,’ deceived consumers, R.I. attorney general’s suit claims

King Philip Motors in Bristol, R.I., sold and advertised vehicles that had not passed a state inspection, while consumers who reported issues faced backlash from managers, the complaint says.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha filed a lawsuit on Jan. 25 against King Philip Motors in Bristol for alleged deceptive sales and advertising practices.Town of Bristol

PROVIDENCE — Attorney General Peter F. Neronha filed a lawsuit this week against a Rhode Island car dealership for alleged deceptive sales and advertising practices that violated the state’s consumer protection law.

King Philip Motors, in Bristol, R.I., and its two managers, Neil and Tammy DeAlmeida, engaged in the sale and advertising of unsafe vehicles, and routinely sold and advertised vehicles before they passed a required state safety inspection, Neronha alleged in a complaint filed in Rhode Island Superior Court on Thursday. Selling vehicles without an inspection led to customers driving “potentially unsafe, illegal vehicles” off the lot, or led to lengthy delays before the vehicle could be legally operated by the customer, the suit claimed.

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Selling a vehicle without an inspection is a violation of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, a state law governing motor vehicle sales, and of the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles Rules and Regulations. The attorney general’s office is seeking a court order to bar the dealership from unfair and deceptive sales practices, and to obtain a civil penalty for each violation.

King Philip Motors, which advertises a “friendly staff” on its website, blamed customers or other mechanics when customers reported concerns over recently purchased vehicles, the complaint states. Neronha alleged consumers reported that Neil DeAlmeida would scream profanities and on at least one occasion, became “physically threatening.”

Neil DeAlmeida declined to comment on a call with the Globe on Friday. His attorney and former state prosecutor Carl J. Ricci denied allegations that Neil DeAlmeida ever became verbally abusive or “physically threatening.” “If he had gotten physically threatening, then I would have thought the AG would have charged him with a crime. They haven’t,” said Ricci on a phone call Friday.

Ricci said Friday at noon that Neronha’s office had emailed him the complaint that morning, but he hadn’t had a chance to read it in full. He denied claims that his client had been “deceptive,” and alleged that used car dealerships around the state have cars for sale on their lots and advertised on their websites that don’t yet have inspection stickers.

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“If the AG’s office thinks this is deceptive, he should be investigating everyone with a car dealership in the state, including people on the DMV’s dealers board,” said Ricci. “This is such a common practice, and I think it’s interesting that the AG is making an issue out of this with my client ... I don’t know if they just want to put my client out of business or not.”

One of the dealership’s customers filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office, claiming he purchased a GMC Acadia in April 2021 and “immediately began to have issues.” The day after purchasing the SUV from King Philip Motors, the unidentified customer’s 16-year-old child was driving home from school and the vehicle stopped running at a traffic light. When the customer reported the issue to the dealership, Neil DeAlmeida picked up the vehicle for the purpose of making repairs and accused the customer of causing the issues, claiming the teen let the tank run out of gas and broke the fuel pump, the complaint alleges.

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha. Ryan T. Conaty/Ryan T. Conaty for the Boston Gl

When the customer went back to the dealership to pick up the SUV in May 2021, the vehicle’s check engine light came on “within minutes.” The customer called the dealership to report it, and Neil DeAlmeida became verbally abusive, was “screaming,” and told the customer “You can take the car and shove it up your [expletive],” the complaint says.

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The DMV launched an investigation, and the vehicle was found to have a failing engine.

King Philip Motors agreed to buy the SUV back from the customer, the suit says. Without making the needed repairs and with full knowledge of its defective motor, the dealership sold the SUV to another customer without disclosing the issue and without an inspection. The DMV eventually ordered King Philip Motors to buy back the vehicle, the complaint says.

In May 2022, another customer purchased a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee at King Philip Motors, and its check engine light came on during their ride home. They attempted to have the dealership fix the issue nine times, Neronha’s complaint alleges, but the business refused to attempt any repairs. The customers brought the Grand Cherokee to a Jeep dealership for assessment, and Neil DeAlmeida refused to cover the recommended service.

The customer reported to Neronha’s office that Neil DeAlmeida became “physically threatening” with him and said, he wouldn’t “pay a bunch of kids at the Jeep dealer to chase ghosts.” Neil DeAlmeida told the customer he could contact a lawyer or the DMV’s Dealers’ License and Hearing Board, but that they “can’t do a thing about it.”

Despite “significant” DMV enforcement actions against King Philip Motors, Neronha said the dealership continued to advertise used vehicles for sale without obtaining an inspection sticker.

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“Consumer protection is just as much about safety as it is about money,” said Neronha on Friday. King Philip Motors “prioritized sales over ensuring the safety of its products.”


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.