Burnaby used-car dealer fighting 10-year ban for 'deceptive acts and practices'

A Burnaby used-car dealer slapped with a 10-year ban for selling unsafe cars, “willfully” disobeying orders from the province’s auto sales regulator and trying to mislead one of its hearings is fighting back in B.C. Supreme Court.

Recognizable by the fake, neon-coloured palm trees that adorned its lot at Kingsway and Imperial Street, Best Import Auto Ltd. was first investigated last July after repeated customer complaints it was selling unsafe vehicles, according to court documents.

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Five out of six vehicles examined by the Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. and the Ministry of Transportation’s commercial vehicle safety enforcement division (CVSE) during a July 17 inspection were found to have safety violations.

Investigators also found vehicles described as in “excellent running condition” with “low kilometres” that were, in fact, rebuilt salvage vehicles – one with 240,532 km on it.

After the investigation, the dealership was ordered not to put the vehicles that had failed the inspection up for sale again until they had passed a safety inspection, but a followup inspection a month later found the vehicles (ranging in price from $3,800 to $23,800) were still up for sale without having been inspected.

And none of the dealership’s ads or lot signs warned buyers those vehicles were “not suitable for transportation.”

After the July inspection, the dealership had also been ordered to get all its vehicles inspected by a red seal mechanic or designated inspection facility and to provide customers with copies of inspection reports.

The sales authority’s followup inspection, however, found the vehicles had instead undergone a cheaper, less thorough inspection at an auto shop that was not designated and didn’t have a red seal mechanic – and not all customers were getting copies of inspection reports for cars bought at Best Import.

Two former managers, Mathew Anvari and Hamid Mirmotahari, told a sales authority hearing in late September and early October it had been the dealership’s practice not to inspect the vehicles it sold.

Both managers said it was Best Import owner Bob Shokohi who directed policy at the dealership.

Best Import Auto Ltd.
Best Import Auto's inventory includes 60 vehicles worth an estimated $250,000, according to court documents. - Cornelia Naylor

Anvari, the manager after the initial inspection, also said he had arranged to have the vehicles inspected at a designated shop with a red seal mechanic, but Shokohi had told him to use the cheaper garage.

Ian Christman, registrar of motor dealers, had harsh words for Best Import and Shokohi in a ruling Nov. 28, characterizing their actions as “reckless” and “deliberate.”

He pinned the blame squarely on Shokohi, describing him as the “directing mind” of the operation and saying the actions of the business reflected on him personally.

In his ruling, Christman also raised concerns about Shokohi’s conduct during the hearing, saying he had attempted to mislead the registrar more than once.

When asked who owned the property Best Import was on, for example, Shokohi had said it was owned by a foreigner whose name he didn’t know, when, in fact, the property was owned by his son, Mehran Shokohi Manesh.

Christman concluded Best Import was “ungovernable” and revoked the business’s motor dealer registration.

While the Motor Vehicle Act would technically allow the company to reapply for registration any time, Christman said he would not consider an application from Best Import or Shokohi for another decade.

“Given my finding that Best Import is ungovernable, attempted to mislead the hearing, and willfully disobeyed orders from its regulator and the Ministry of Transportation, I would set a time of 10 years before I would even accept an application and consider registering Best Import as a motor dealer,” Christman wrote. “Additionally, I would set the same time bar against any motor dealer application in which Mr. Bob Shokohi is involved.”

Shokohi, however, has called the decision “procedurally unfair” and has petitioned B.C. Supreme Court to have it quashed and a new hearing called or the penalty reconsidered.

In his petition, Shokohi argues the 10-year timeline really amounts to a lifetime ban for him because he is 80 years old.

The ban would effectively shut down his primary source of income, some of which he uses to pay for a full-time caregiver for his wife, who has severe Alzheimer’s disease, according to the petition.

The petition also calls it “problematic” the registrar concluded Shokohi showed “willful disregard” for the sales authority’s conditions when the owner had left for Iran to be with a dying sister the day after they were imposed and left Anvari in charge.

Shokohi further argues he wasn’t given sufficient notice of the hearing and that it was an “unreasonable and unsupportable leap of logic” to conclude Shokohi was misleading the registrar when he said he didn’t know who owned the property the car lot was on and that it was owned by a foreigner.

“Even if there was a contradiction on this point, it did not amount to misleading the registrar on any material fact as the ownership of the property was irrelevant and immaterial to the issues in the hearing,” states the petition.

A two-day chambers judicial review hearing into the matter is scheduled in B.C. Supreme Court for April 17 and 18.

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