Alan Spiers fined over car repossession practices

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 13:00 01/04/2014

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A Mount Maunganui car salesman who assaulted Fair Go host Gordon Harcourt during a television investigation has been fined $65,000 in Auckland District Court this morning.

Mount Auto Court director Alan Spiers pleaded guilty to 11 charges of breaching the Fair Trading Act earlier this year after a Commerce Commission investigation into his repossession practices.

His finance company, MAC Warranties, was also convicted of 17 breaches of the Act.

Spiers was fined $23,000 and his company $42,000.

Harcourt was in court and said Spiers had caused "a high degree of real harm" to people who used his finance company, MAC Warranties, when buying used cars from Mount Auto Court.

MAC would repossess cars from defaulting borrowers and sell them to Mount Auto Court at a low value. The car yard would then resell the vehicles for a large mark-up.

Judge Phillipa Cunningham heard how one repossessed vehicle was valued by Spiers to be worth $800, but later sold at Mount Auto Court for close to $7000, a case in which she said "the disadvantage [to the loan defaulter] is obvious".

The Commerce Commission and Spiers negotiated a reduced fine approved by Judge Cunningham, more than three years after it began investigating the car salesman's dealings.

Spiers gained notoriety for assaulting Fair Go's Harcourt during the television show's investigations in 2011, leaving Harcourt with a black eye and bloodied nose.

Judge Cunningham said Spiers's case was about consumer protection and his system of repossessing cars and vehicles from often low income or welfare-dependent clients, who often did not know their rights, or exercise them, was "reckless".

She said she hoped the fine would be a deterrent to other potential cases in the car industry, but it was discounted due to a guilty plea and a compensation plan that MAC Warranties had started.

Prosecution lawyer Alysha McClintock earlier submitted a $110,000 to $120,000 starting point penalty for the Fair Trading Act offences.

''This is not a case of a new inexperienced business that made isolated and technical mistakes that can be categorised as careless,'' she said.

''This business made and broke its own rules ... in terms of how it was going to approach vehicle valuations for repossessed vehicles.''

Defence counsel Jenny Stevens said both her clients acted in a "careless" way.

''They do unreservedly apologise for any stress that has been caused to debtors, who are after all valued customers of MAC,'' she said.

Spiers had voluntarily enacted its own compensation scheme for victims, worth $180,000, refunding some and crediting the accounts of others.

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- Fairfax Media

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