FL Seniors Fought Consumer Fraud, Lost Everything

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Goal: $20,000 for Necessary RV Repairs

My name is Antonio C. Martinez II. I am a practicing Attorney in NY, NJ, and DC since 1996. Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Cosmar and CJ Heck, a sweet senior couple, stranded in Central Florida during hurricane season.

As survivors of consumer fraud and a legal system that failed them, I believe we can make a difference. We can help right a wrong by showing kindness and generosity, one person at a time.

Robert and CJ are seniors, 69 and 71, on a fixed income. Instead of enjoying their golden years together, they are starting all over again. CJ is a Vietnam War widow. Her first husband was a combat medic, KIA 1969, and awarded seven medals posthumously.

Their problems began with a situation that could have been avoided, had sales personnel at an RV dealership been people-centered and honest, rather than money-focused and predatory. This is why I stepped in to help them.

In July 2018, they sold their house, car, and furnishings in Florida to realize a long-time dream of retiring and being full-time RVers. They looked forward to visiting their four children and eleven grandchildren up north, traveling the country, and enjoying retirement together.

They combed the Internet for months, searching for a used Class A motorhome that was affordable and big enough to be comfortable living and traveling in.

At an RV dealership in Winter Garden FL, they found a one-owner, used 2000 Class A 39’ Safari Zanzibar Diesel pusher motorhome with very low mileage (33,000). It looked perfect for them from photos on their website. They drove to Winter Garden to see the motorhome and loved it.

New to RVing, they asked the dealership to have their mechanics check everything carefully and to inform them of possible problems, or safety issues. If there were any, they would insist on looking at other used Class A motorhomes.

They were assured everything checked out fine. Naïve and trusting, they didn’t know to get everything in writing ---like a list of everything the mechanics and service department actually checked.

They settled on a price of $33,750 plus a two-year extended warranty, for another $7,200. After selling the house and paying cash for the RV and warranty, it left them with a small slush fund in the bank for travel, fuel, visiting family, and an occasional repair.

The problems began on the first day. No matter where they went, they ended up in RV repair shops. That meant campgrounds while waiting for parts and since the RV was their home, motels while repairs were being done and the RV was in the shop.

So far, they’ve paid over $18,000 in repairs not covered by the extended warranty, or State Farm Insurance. Add to that the unplanned campgrounds, motels, and at times, a rental car.

Throughout the entire two years of ownership, they’ve exhausted every avenue to recover their money from the RV dealership who sold them the motorhome. They have come to realize the dealership only cared about making a sale, nothing else --certainly not two naïve senior citizens.

They reached out to numerous consumer fraud attorneys, the Florida Bar Association, Legal Aid, senior law students at Florida law schools, Florida State Senators Rubio and Scott, 3rd District Congressman Ted Yoho, Orlando Channel 9 TV investigative reporter, Todd Urlich, State Farm Claims Department, the extended warranty company, and a Law Professor in Fort Lauderdale.

The Law Professor was the most helpful and honest. He told them they would never find an attorney who would go after the dealership. It was almost impossible to prove consumer fraud under the laws in place in Florida under the current administration.

“Unless you have proof in writing of consumer fraud, judges most often side with the business. It would be long and drawn-out litigation and very expensive. If they were to lose, they would be ordered to pay their own legal fees as well as those of the business.”

When they drove the RV off the lot, Florida law considered it to be theirs, problems and all. He further suggested they forget the dealership, sell the motor home, get what they can out of it, and get on with the rest of their life.

With nothing in writing to prove consumer fraud, they had no choice but to put it behind them and sell the RV. “Live and learn”, yes, but it’s easier said than done.

To make a long story shorter, they thought they had sold the RV, but the buyer brought a mechanic along to go over it thoroughly. After seeing his report, the buyer walked away.

1***Both airbags for the front braking system are bad, ($2,000-$4,000) a critical, dangerous problem. Both have to be replaced. One has an obvious hole (he heard hissing as air leaked out) and the rubber is worn down showing the metal cords.

If the airbags go, the chassis could drop down and the RV will not steer. Worst case, the wheels will lock up and the RV could flip over in traffic, causing a fatal accident.

2***The differential pressure switch is bad on one of the four master cylinders. A safety issue, all four have to be replaced at the same time. To drive it as is, the brakes could fail and cause an accident. ($4,000 to $6,000)

3***There is a rusted tie rod that could go and it would affect the steering column, resulting in a loss of steering ability. ($500 to $1000)

4***The brake on the driver’s side is glazed. ($250 to $500)

5***The fuel gauge is broken. ($400)

6***Replace the roof ($7,000 rubber, $12,000 fiberglass)

***Interestingly, all of the problems the mechanic found would have taken years to fall into that state of disrepair. The problems should have been disclosed to Bob and CJ up front by the RV dealership, as requested, so they could look at other RVs. That is Consumer Fraud.

The mechanic further told Robert and CJ their RV is a safety nightmare and not to drive it.

“Have it repaired, have it towed to a junkyard, but under no circumstances should you drive it on the road.”

They had no money for towing or further repairs. So, with hazard lights blinking, they limped to a campground where they are now, broken down with critical repairs they can’t afford to fix.

Essentially they are stranded. If a hurricane comes, they will not be able to evacuate in their RV –it’s not drivable now.

The State of Florida prides itself on not allowing its senior citizens to be taken advantage of. Sadly, Bob & CJ fell through a huge crack in that theory. They are broke and nearly homeless, living in a broken-down RV, but they are also amazing.

In their words:

“You really get to know someone when you share living in “a box” for two years. You either grow closer, or you don’t. There’s no in-between. We’re happy we have each other.”

Please, join me and make a donation today. Let's do what we can to help them so they can truly move forward.

ADDENDUM/UPDATE:
Goal: $20,000 to get back on our feet again.

After several new RV problems, a lot of discussion, sleepless nights, and weighing all possibilities with our GoFundMe Organizer, Tony Martinez, Bob and I have decided we have to approach the GoFundMe campaign differently. Out of necessity, it will be from a whole different angle

Tony had such great plans for helping us get back on our feet again. Make the GoFundMe goal, repair the RV, sell it, use the proceeds to buy a small, but nice manufactured home in a gated 55+ community. It’s true, what they say about the best laid plans … they don’t always work out as planned.

Then the roof leaked, the motor blew for the electric steps, and we had a serious electrical problem. We had to deal with the electrical problem, we had no choice. But when we added the other two problems to the repairs the RV already needs, it soon became clear. We would never be able to do even the most critical repairs with the funds we had so far.

With the two new problems, we realized something. The motorhome is a money pit. It would be better to cut our losses before anything else breaks. We’ll live in the RV long enough to find a small house, move, and list the RV for sale ‘as is’, being honest and listing the repairs it needs.

There are Safari Zanzibar clubs out there with hundreds of members. Many have a Safari and they’re looking to buy one to use for spare parts. Other possible buyers are mechanics and do-it-yourselfers, who want to refurbish one at their leisure and resell it.

We can’t wait any longer. We have to do something. Inaction is paralyzing and costly. Fact: There isn’t enough in the GoFundMe to get the motorhome repaired. Every month we’re parked in this campground, we’re paying $700 for Lot Rent plus electricity ($50).

Besides being our home, the RV was also our vehicle. To switch gears and start looking at little homes, we needed a car. We had been bumming rides from our campground neighbors to go to the grocery. We found a used 2005 KIA Sportage like one we had years ago. It was in good condition and cost us $5k.

We’ve begun to look at small manufactured homes in 55+ gated communities. We hope to have some photos to post soon.

Anyway, that’s the plan. We hope you will support our decision –-we feel it makes more sense. We will keep you updated when we have any news.

Thank you.

Most sincerely yours,

Tony Martinez
(Antonio C. Martinez II)

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Organizer and beneficiary

Antonio C Martinez II 
Organizer
Briarcliff Manor, NY
CJ Heck 
Beneficiary
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