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AG Cooper slams the brakes on “Smokey and the Bandit” car seller

Release date: 6/3/2013

Consumers from around the world lost more than $2.2 million to scheme

Raleigh: A Buncombe County man who claimed to sell classic Pontiac Trans Ams has been ordered to stop taking orders and advance deposits for automobile restoration in North Carolina, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.
 
The Trans Am was made popular by the 1977 hit movie Smokey and the Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields.
 
“Promising consumers a custom car, taking their money and then leaving them high and dry is no way to do business,” Cooper said. “We want to stop bandits from making off with people’s money.”
 
On Thursday afternoon, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning agreed with Cooper’s request for a temporary restraining order against Robert Allen McElreath and his businesses Build-a-Bandit, Pick a Pony, Pontiac Pros, Common Man Classic Hot Rods and Discount Automotive Classic Restorations with addresses at 1040C Old US 70 in Black Mountain and 3082 Cane Creek Road in Fairview. Cooper is seeking to permanently ban the company from auto restoration work in North Carolina and win refunds for consumers and civil penalties.
 
McElreath also faces arrest on related felony charges. Twenty-six warrants have been issued against McElreath for obtaining property by false pretenses and it is believed that McElreath has left the state to avoid arrest.
 
As alleged in Cooper’s complaint, McElreath advertised his “Smokey and the Bandit” cars on Internet auction sites such as eBay. Consumers who bid on restored Bandit cars at auction but didn’t win got a follow up call from McElreath offering them a car at a discounted price. Consumers who signed a written contract were asked to immediately wire thousands of dollars before work could begin. Once the wire transfer went through, consumers reported that they had trouble reaching McElreath and very little work, if any, ever got done. Consumers complained that they never got their cars and couldn’t get their money back.
 
According to an affidavit filed with Cooper’s lawsuit, a Florida man who paid McElreath $15,500 to fully restore a 1978 Trans Am using the consumer’s own Pontiac 400 engine spent more than a year and a half waiting for his car before deciding to confront McElreath in person. When he arrived at McElreath’s shop accompanied by a local police officer, he discovered that the car was little more than an empty shell. An inspection revealed that the car was missing more than $9,000 worth of parts.  
 
Since June 2012, Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division has received 52 written complaints from consumers from as far away as Australia who signed contracts with McElreath for automobile restoration but never got what they were promised.   Based on information gathered during the investigation, since 2009 consumers have paid more than $2.2 million to McElreath for restorations that were never satisfactorily completed.
 
“No matter how much you want it or how good the deal seems, it’s not a good idea to pay upfront, especially by wire transfer,” said Cooper. “Check out a company thoroughly before you agree to give them your money.”
 
To check out a company or file a complaint against one, consumers can call1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within state. Consumers can also file a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.



Media contact:  Noelle Talley (919) 716-6413