AG Confirms F&R Auto Sales Is Under Investigation [Updated]

The AG refuses to make public 38 complaints filed against the notorious car dealership.

Update, March 30, 2:35 p.m.: A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office reached out to Boston after the publication of this story to confirm that F&R Auto is indeed under investigation. The office originally declined to confirm or deny the investigation.

Original story:

In the first three months of 2015, F&R Auto Sales in Westport has captured national headlines for such proud achievements as swindling a pizza deliveryman out of a $7 tip and allegedly threatening to punch a female customer in the face. Now the question is whether the dealership is under investigation by the Attorney General.

The Attorney General’s office readily confirmed that it has received 38 complaints dating back to 2009 against the dealership. Yet it rejected a public records request filed by Boston to review those complaints, claiming that they are “investigatory materials necessarily compiled out of the public view…” It’s a frequently cited excuse among state agencies and just the latest illustration of how our dysfunctional public records laws work.

For a state that prides itself on being ahead of the curve, we’re woefully behind when it comes to transparency. Let’s be clear: There are far more pernicious consequences of Massachusetts’ broken public records laws than holding back a few dozen complaints against a scuzzy used car lot. The Boston Globe recently detailed how city police have twisted the laws to conceal the identity of drunk-driving cops, while the Department of Corrections can “withhold its entire log of people incarcerated in the state prison system.”

As the ACLU noted earlier this month, the laws have not been updated since 1973—the same year Aerosmith released their debut album. The organization is calling on state lawmakers to pass recently introduced pieces of legislation that would “update the law to reflect advances in technology, require state agencies to have a ‘point person’ to handle records requests, rationalize fees for obtaining public records by having them reflect actual costs, and provide attorneys’ fees when agencies unlawfully block access to public information.”

Given that our request for the complaints lodged against F&R Auto Sales was rejected because the documents are “investigatory material,” can the AG at least confirm that the dealership is in indeed under investigation?

“It is our office policy to neither confirm nor deny investigations,” wrote Grant Woodman, a spokesman for the AG’s office, in an email.

It’s embarrassing enough to be the state that made national news because used car salesmen screwed a deliveryman on tips and allegedly threatened to punch a woman in the face. More embarrassing, perhaps, is that as a state we trail the likes of New Jersey, Nebraska, and Kansas when it comes to public access to information.