Taken for a Ride and Left Stranded

Aaron Travis thought he was buying a new Ranger from Armstrong Ford. Instead he got the shaft.

In Travis' case the question is whether he signed a bailment agreement that permitted Armstrong to keep the Thunderbird, Barnes says. "If he didn't sign any such document, then Armstrong Ford would have a problem: It's called either return the money you gave him for the trade allowance or return the vehicle."

Because Travis doesn't remember signing a bailment agreement, New Times contacted Armstrong Ford, beginning with Gottschalk, the salesman who made the deal. He was asked the legal basis for not returning the Thunderbird.

"I drove that vehicle; it had no brakes," Gottschalk said. "The total value of that car was under $100. I don't know what the disposition was on the car, but I'd rather have someone in management return this call."

After waiting a day for the management response, New Times again called Armstrong Ford and was transferred to a sales manager named Emilio, who declined to give his last name.

"The dealership doesn't have anything to say to you... nothing whatsoever," Emilio said, then hung up.

When Armstrong said he wasn't getting his Thunderbird, Travis kept the Ranger and consulted lawyer James L. Soule. "I contacted Ford Credit. They had no knowledge of the deal whatsoever," Soule says. "I made several phone calls to the dealership itself, all of which have gone unanswered.... If they're going to void the deal, then they have to make him whole, as he was previously." That's lawyer talk for 'Give Travis his Thunderbird or the $1000 trade-in allowance.'

Armstrong Ford apparently had a different solution in mind.
On the night of December 11, as he sat on the balcony of his third-floor apartment in Pompano Beach, two guys in a tow truck pulled up in front of the Ranger parked below.

"My girlfriend looks out the window, and she screams, 'They're downstairs!' So I run downstairs, jump in between the truck and them, and I'm like, you guys aren't taking my truck -- you've got to get through me!" Travis also yelled for his girlfriend to call the police, then opened dialogue with the tow-truck heavies. "They weren't bad guys. They knew the cops were on the way. They split."

Travis began hiding the Ranger.
"I'm stashing my truck every night in different places, totally stressing out about this. I feel I'm in some sort of CIA movie or something. Everybody I'm seeing is a potential tow-truck driver spying on me. I kid you not, you start thinking this."

On December 17 his vigilance faltered. Leaving work about 10 p.m., he drove the Ranger to his favorite hiding place, a friend's mother's condo parking lot, and walked home to sleep in peace.

Next morning the Ranger was gone. "Apparently I was followed that night," Travis deduces. "I kinda remember a car slowing down as I pulled in. I imagine they had a cell phone, and when I walked home, they shot in there and took it."

With no Ranger and no Thunderbird, Travis last week was getting rides from friends to man his cheerful post in the vitamins and herbs section of the Wild Oats Community Market. He reflected on his bad trip to Armstrong Ford.

"I signed a contract, I have an agreement.... I can't believe they're getting away with this," he mused, still a bit bewildered. "South Florida is definitely unique.

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