WOBURN - The aldermen recently revisited its January issuance of a first class sales license to a Four Corners car dealership after City Council President Lindsay Higgins realized the local business recently agreed to pay a $1 million fine for unemployment fraud.
During their most recent virtual meeting, Higgins explained that right after the council voted last month to approve the license for Colonial Cadillac in spite missing application paperwork, she learned of the settlement deal between Colonial Cadillac's parent company Colonial Automotive and Attorney General (AG) Maura Healey.
Given that news, which was released by Healy's office on the Friday before the long MLK holiday weekend, the Ward 7 alderman immediately filed the required notice to revisit her vote the council's Jan. 19 meeting.
"There's information out in the public that we had not received at the time," the City Council president said of the settlement deal. "It's kind of disturbing to me that this came out and the AG's office kind of buried it by releasing it on a Friday before a long weekend."
Though the council unanimously agreed to revisit its Jan. 19 decision, the elected officials did not revoke the first class sales license — an action that would have forced the local business to shutter its popular Cambridge Road sales lot.
Instead, the council agreed to refer the matter back to its Public Safety and License Committee, where members will be asked to meet with dealership officials to remind them of their unrelated special permit obligations.
"I was just going to send this to licensing, because that's before us now," responded Higgins, when asked by Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen if the Special Permits Committee would be better suited to lead that conversation.
In a Jan. 15 announcement, Healey accused Colonial Cadillac's parent company of abusing the state's unemployment assistance system and exploiting furloughed staffers by urging them to collect benefits and then work for free at the parent company's 16 dealerships across the state.
At the time, dealerships across the state were apparently still forbidden from letting customers visit showrooms due to the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, the firm allegedly sold 821 vehicles during the two months workers were collecting benefits and reporting to sales lots.
"The AG’s office alleges the company directed its furloughed employees to perform various jobs including calling prospective sales leads, setting appointments with prospective customers, delivering cars to customers, and finalizing sales, and it did not pay these employees’ salaries for the work they performed during this period," Healey said.
“Colonial Automotive planned and carried out an illegal scheme to cheat our unemployment system and avoid paying its workers in order to maximize its profits during the COVID-19 crisis,” the AG added in the Jan. 15 statement. “This is a brazen attempt at exploiting workers and the state’s unemployment system, and we will take action against those who defraud our state agencies and try to steal taxpayer dollars.”
The local process for vetting and approving car sales licenses rarely generates any debate once it reaches the full council, as the Ordinance Committee usually ensures all paperwork is in order before recommending out on a matter.
However, last month, several council members challenged whether it was appropriate to approve Colonial Cadillac's 2021 license, as City Clerk William Campbell's office had not received a copy of the dealership's insurance binder as required under the application process.
Because the local business' previous license had lapsed, the council agreed to grant a conditional approval that hinged upon the timely submission of that paperwork. Those insurance documents were later sent within days of the council decision.