LI dealer stops Chrysler's move to halt franchise

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 | James Bernstein, Newsday

Last year, Chrysler Group Llc, mired in bankruptcy proceedings, terminated 789 dealerships across the country, saying it had too many for its diminished market share.

Among the terminated was one of Long Island's largest Chrysler dealers, Eagle Auto Mall in Riverhead. Eagle was one of about 200 dumped Chrysler dealers that began to fight the auto giant in an arbitration to regain their Chrysler franchises.

Until last week, only 14 dealers nationwide had bested Chrysler in the proceedings.

Last week, Eagle Auto learned it had become the 15th to win its hearing, and it expects to begin selling Jeeps and Chryslers again within 60 days, Eagle Auto owner Mark Calisi said. Eagle Auto was also the only Long Island Chrysler dealer to regain its franchise. The others reached financial settlements with Chrysler.

"We got phone calls from all over the country," Calisi said, referring to calls he got from people upset with Chrysler's actions. "They wanted to make a statement."

Chrysler said in a statement it was "disappointed" with the arbitrator's decision, but it noted it had won 44 cases and that fewer than 30 remain to be arbitrated.

"Chrysler Group is looking forward to moving beyond the arbitration process and completing our dealer network plans," the company said.

Leonard Bellavia, of the Mineola-based Bellavia Gentile & Associates law firm, which represented Eagle Auto and many other terminated dealerships across the country, said that in preparing for the arbitration, he had uncovered e-mails from top Chrysler executives.

Eagle Auto was officially told it was being terminated because it also sold Mazdas, Volvos and Kias, which Chrysler said was "contrary to its business model," Bellavia said.

But the e-mails, Bellavia said, told a different story.

They said Calisi was "difficult to deal with," Bellavia said. "He would blow the whistle on them" about auto prices and other issues, Bellavia said.

Chrysler would not comment on the e-mails.

Bellavia presented them to arbitrator Larry Biblo during a two-day hearing at a Westchester County hotel. Last week, Biblo wrote that Eagle Auto's franchise "will be renewed."

Calisi said the termination had its consequence on his business: It lost $18 million in revenue in the last year.




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