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The Minnesota Attorney General's Office on Tuesday sued a Fridley used car dealership for violating consumer protection laws, alleging it fraudulently sold more than 3,000 vehicles and targeted Spanish-speaking customers.

Midwest Car Search and its owner, Scott Spiczka, misrepresented cars as "certified" when they were not and illegally tacked on expensive service contracts without buyers' consent, Attorney General Keith Ellison claims in the suit.

"This is a long-term systemic pattern of deception targeting customers with — though not always — limited English skills," Ellison said at a Tuesday press conference.

Midwest Car Search marketed cars to Spanish-speaking consumers through ad campaigns in that language. Sales negotiations were conducted in Spanish, but sales documents were in English "and bore no relation to promises" made in Spanish, Ellison's office claims.

The company and Spiczka denied Ellison's claims through attorney Aaron Thom. "Midwest Car Search will meet and beat the state's groundless allegations in court," Thom said.

The lawsuit covers used car sales from 2017 through 2022. The Attorney General's Office said it investigated the company after receiving many complaints.

"Midwest Car Search was transparent and cooperative" with the AG's office, Thom said.

The "company allowed the state to conduct a full-day, on-site inspection, during which Midwest Car Search opened up all of its files to the state. That was on July 7, 2023 — over nine months ago. Months and months and months of silence followed," he said.

The suit claims that, in some cases, consumers "quickly encountered fundamental problems with [Midwest Car Search's] vehicles, sometimes on the same day of their purchase, rendering their investment worthless. "

Midwest said in online ads — and directly to customers — that its cars were all certified as mechanically sound, the suit said.

Under state law, a car must meet several conditions to be certified, including that it be inspected by a third party for deficiencies and come with a warranty. The Attorney General's Office claims Midwest Car Search routinely sold vehicles as certified that had no warranties or inspection reports.

"In many cases, [car buyers] were stuck with lemons," Ellison said.

Manuela Enriquez of Burnsville said at the press conference that she bought a lemon from Midwest Car Search in 2019. Soon after purchasing it, she said, she found the brakes didn't work.

"I took it to a mechanic, and he asked why I bought this thing, [that] it didn't work and I shouldn't be driving it," Enriquez said. She asked Midwest Car Search to fix the brakes, she said, but the company refused.

Enriquez said in an interview that she asked to test drive the car before buying it, but was told she could only ride along as a passenger. A dealership employee drove.

Midwest Car Search also allegedly added expensive service contracts without telling consumers. The average service contract cost more than $1,500, according to the lawsuit.

The Attorney General's Office said it reviewed 200 individual car purchases from Midwest Car Search, and all of them failed to properly disclose a service contract.

Thom said Midwest Car Search has asked Ellison's office for specific information on who, "if any, consumers have been affected" by Midwest Car Search's actions. "The state has consistently refused to answer these inquiries."

The lawsuit filed in Anoka County District Court alleges several consumer law violations, including deceptive trade practices, false advertising and fraud. The suit also claims Midwest Car Search used the moniker Coches MN to market to Spanish-speakers without registering the business name with the state.

Ellison is seeking an injunction against the company's allegedly illegal practices, restitution to customers and civil penalties.