A Mercedes-Benz dealer accused of demanding kickbacks from an auto repair shop has countersued the shop for defamation.
Celebrity Auto of Westchester, owner of Mercedes-Benz of Goldens Bridge, sued North State Autobahn and owner Gregory Coccaro Jr. in Westchester Supreme Court.
The complaint claims that Coccaro gave an interview to Repairer Driven News in October in which he stated that Celebrity had demanded a “flat out mafia style bribe.”
The clear implication, the Mercedes dealer said, is that “Celebrity was engaging in unlawful activity and participating in organized crime.”
Coccaro responded in a court filing that all of his comments were true, “and thus cannot be the basis for a defamation or a trade libel action.”
The dispute goes back to the spring when Tom Maoli, owner of the Celebrity Motor Car Co. group of luxury car stores in New Jersey, bought the Goldens Bridge dealership from Estate Motors.
Estate Motors had sponsored North State as an authorized Mercedes repair shop for 13 years. The Bedford Hills repair shop, operating as North State Custom, was doing more than $1.1 million a year in Mercedes work.
Celebrity and North State representatives met in May to discuss their arrangement under the new dealer.
The repair shop claims that Celebrity demanded a kickback on every car referred to the shop, according to North State’s lawsuit, and demanded the entire markup on parts.
When North State refused to go along with the proposal, it claims, Celebrity terminated its status as an authorized Mercedes repair shop.
North State also complained to Mercedes-Benz USA and asked to be reinstated. Mercedes declined.
North State sued Celebrity and the automaker for $11.5 million.
Celebrity’s countersuit states that it had the right to terminate its sponsorship of North State.
The dealer said it was wronged by a press release that Coccaro issued to the collision repair industry, stating that Celebrity had “conspired to demand kickbacks and other concessions” from North State.” North State had also claimed that Celebrity had violated state law because it is not a licensed repair facility.
That last statement, according to Celebrity, demonstrates reckless disregard of the truth because the state Division of Motor Vehicles website identifies Mercedes-Benz of Goldens Bridge as a licensed repair shop.
Celebrity accuses North State and Coccaro of defamation, trade libel, abuse of process, tortious interference and placing the dealer in a false light.
Celebrity has also issued a press release, stating that “it has at all times acted in accordance with New York State law.”
“We intend to hold North State and Coccaro accountable,” Marc J. Gross, Celebrity’s attorney said in the press release. “Suing a business and seeking to harm its reputation and recklessly utilizing false facts is not something that should go unpunished.”
Coccaro responded in a court filing that his “statements were made in good faith with the proper motives.”
He had commented “as a private citizen exercising his right of free speech, discussing matters of public importance.”