An Indian national is suing a New Jersey car dealership for $1.26 million for allegedly refusing to sell him a Mercedes-Benz for fear that he might ship it to the Taliban.
When 50-year-old Surjeet Bassi approached Prestige Motors Inc. in Bergen County, New Jersey, at the beginning of June, he intended to trade in his Mercedes-Benz ML350 for a newer model – a GLS550 with the black interior he desired.
Bassi went through all the motions, spending several hours at the dealership negotiating a price with the salesman. He passed a credit check, paid a $1,000 down payment, and showed the dealership his bank statements. Finally, a deal was reached.
Thinking ahead, Bassi even called his insurance company to put the new car – which was being delivered from the dealership’s other location in Nyack – on his policy.
But just as Bassi thought the hardest part of the process was over, his day took a turn for the worse.
Despite jumping through all of the necessary hoops, the dealership’s manager reportedly decided not to sell Bassi the SUV because he was afraid that he would export it to the Taliban.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t sell you the car,’” Bassi told the Times Herald-Record, explaining that the manager had called him into his office to share the disappointing news.
According to Bassi, the manager told him that he came from a “high-risk area” where people often buy cars and send them to the Taliban.
Bassi – who has lived in the local area for 30 years – explained that he is originally from India, and is in no way connected to the Taliban.
The 50-year-old went on to state that the manager conducted a federal database search of those banned from exporting, and his name was not on the list.
Bassi even offered to sign a waiver stating that he wouldn’t export the car for three years.
“I said, ‘Give me the paper, I’ll sign it,’” Bassi said. “I had a Mercedes already, if I wanted to export it I would sell that one.”
His offer did nothing to change the mind of the dealership’s manager, however.
Bassi, who said the entire experience left him “heartbroken,” is now suing the dealership for $1.26 million.
“This is an instance of the madness we’ve come to,” his attorney, Michael Sussman, said, calling the incident “blatant racial discrimination.”
Sussman also said the dealership had violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by refusing to extend credit to Bassi.
This is not the first time Prestige Motors has been in the news. A 2014 story by the New York Times said that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had investigated the dealership over allegations that kickbacks were being paid to its salesmen as part of a national probe into the export of luxury vehicles to China.