"You expect you clobber 'em once and that's it," Brown says. "But then there's three, four. I'm working on my fifth now. Come on."
Brown's lawsuits against Bob Balderston known from TV commercials in which his appeal begins "Hi, folks, Bob from Blue Springs Ford" have spanned three decades and extracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in judgments for undisclosed sales of rebuilt wrecks.
Now, Brown is asking the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals for an injunction against Blue Springs Ford. If the injunction is granted, the dealership could be held in contempt of court if it ever again sells a rebuilt wreck without disclosure.
The case before the appeals court was filed by Lance Scott, who was 23 when he went to Blue Springs Ford in March 1994 to pick out an SUV. He saw a black 1991 Ford Explorer but wondered if it had been wrecked because the bumper looked out of alignment. Scott says salesman Harvey Alexander told him it hadn't been wrecked and had been owned by an older couple.
"Now, thinking back on it, that's got to be the cheesiest thing I ever heard," Scott tells the Pitch.
Scott plunked down $25,400.40 for the Explorer, including $1,475 for a Ford Motor Company extended warranty.
Less than two weeks later, Ford Motor Company notified Blue Springs Ford that it was rejecting the warranty because the Explorer had been totaled by a previous owner. Scott says no one at Blue Springs Ford informed him.
Scott says the Explorer had problems from the beginning. It pulled hard to the left. Rain leaked through the roof and dripped into his lap. When the SUV's transmission began leaking five months after he bought it, Scott took it back to Blue Springs Ford. Instead of telling Scott that his Explorer wasn't under warranty, the repair shop instead just didn't bill Scott for the work.
Scott finally learned that he was driving a rebuilt wreck when he took the Explorer to a private mechanic for an inspection. The mechanic pointed out where the subframe a cage of metal bars that crumples in a crash to keep passengers safe had been smashed. Somebody had welded the compressed frame in place and used metal shims to push the front bumper flush with the rest of the car.
If Scott's car had been struck on the driver's side, the Explorer would have crumpled like a cereal box.
Scott contacted Brown. When Balderston learned that Scott was talking to a lawyer, the car dealer sent him a letter. Balderston's note, dated May 11, 2000, claimed the dealership didn't know that the Explorer had been rebuilt and offered to buy the SUV back for full price. "If you no longer have the Explorer," the letter continued, "Blue Springs Ford will still reimburse you the $25,400.40."
Meanwhile, Balderston was offering to settle another of Brown's rebuilt-wreck cases for about $300,000. "If I had been the first person that this happened to, I would probably not be upset," Scott says. "But I found out from Bernard Brown that this was part of a pattern."
Brown has sued Balderston five times and come across dozens of other Blue Springs Ford customers who say they unwittingly bought rebuilt wrecks. They include, according to Brown, a wrecked Mustang brought to Blue Springs Ford on a flatbed truck, rebuilt and sold to Vicki Johnson in 1992 without disclosure. Balderston claimed the Mustang hadn't been wrecked but was traded in by his wife because she disliked the stick shift. Johnson traded the Mustang back to the dealership, where it was sold in 1994 without disclosure to Danny Bishop.
A once-totaled Mercedes deemed in "perfect condition" by Blue Springs Nissan sales staff was sold in 1995 to Jerry Dover, a hospital CEO. Dover traded in the Mercedes, and Brown says it was sold without disclosure again in 1996 to Cyndy Shorten.
There's the 1991 Ford Taurus, sold by Blue Springs Nissan in the winter of 1995 to Jenny Brooker. Brown says the dealership never told her of its previous rear-end collision and that the trunk was held together by bolts underneath.
And then there's the 1994 Ford Ranger sold to Kevin Simpson in what the dealership called good condition except for hail damage. Simpson testified: "I have never seen hail, you know, bend a frame, personally." According to court documents, a mechanic told Simpson that the vehicle "should never have been sold, much less driven." When Simpson asked Balderston for a new truck, he claimed in court that Balderston grinned and said, "You might as well get the hell pardon my French but get the hell out of here."
Neither Balderston nor his attorney, J.R. Hobbs, would comment for the Pitch.
At Scott's trial in 2003, Balderston claimed he was merely an overseer who set policy but wasn't privy to the details of every sale. The jury agreed, excluding Balderston personally from the judgment. But they found Blue Springs Ford guilty and awarded Scott $865,000.
Blue Springs doesn't have to pay the judgment while it appeals. Meanwhile, Brown says he asked the appeals court to enter the injunction against Blue Springs Ford using state consumer-protection law.
"The car dealerships who do not cheat are like the Olympic athletes who do not use steroids," Brown says. "You never hear about them because they never win. He [Balderston] is real successful. This is how his dealership does it. He's the dealer on steroids."
Last October, Balderston wrote an "As I See It" opinion column for The Kansas City Star's editorial page. It was about safe driving.