Wednesday went much better all the way around. The damaged cars in the parking lot had been hauled away after the owners had retrieved their personal things. The top of the transformer had been hauled away and a cleanup crew was cleaning up the blacktop. It was especially pleasing to ride through the parking lot and see the six rental cars there.
Several students came by to complain about the generator noise. I told them they would get used to it pretty quick. The choice was a little noise or no food and no heat. The rest of the day was quiet.
The office was running much smoother when we got home. The 1st day rush had settled. The four secretaries had been given specific assignments. Two were assigned to Marcy with one of them handling and screening all incoming calls. The other two were pooled among Vicky, Lorrie and Ching Lee.
The four college students were to start Monday. Marcy had several legal tablets in her office with assignments for them to do. From our nightly meetings we had decided to look at new sites and expanding the car rental sites. The one at the Island airport was going to be expanded as it currently had only 4 cars. Marcy wanted to bump it up to at least 10 so we could use it as a pool. We were going to look at putting a rental site at the Naples airport if we could negotiate a site there. Marcy had asked Dad to look over the airport to see if there looked to be room enough to set it up at the terminal.
The airport at Naples was county owned and had recently received some grant money to renovate. It had 3 moderate runways. It couldn’t handle the big jets but turboprop commuter planes had a schedule there along with a lot of parking for private planes. The passenger complex was nice, Dad had said, and there were several empty business areas where an auto rental office could be established. An office there could be jointly used with the rental houses.
Another item that was on the agenda was to buy 200 new cars. None were bought last year because of the previous owner’s money problems and none had been scheduled for this year. The oldest were now seven years old, even though some of them only had 50,000 miles on them. We thought that was just too old. We had to do the make and model decisions and put out bid requests. Then we had to decide where to tag and store them along with the ones removed from service until they were disposed of. We had discussed offering them to employees first at some kind of blue book value. If we expanded we would need even more new cars and could hold on to some of the better older ones a while longer. You just could not send old cars to a new site. You had to send new ones for the PR push and in a couple of months work some of them away to where you really needed them.
At 5AM Marcy, Jenny and I were boarding the King Air for the flight to Charlotte. We each had a laptop, a briefcase and an overnight bag. One of Marcy’s secretaries had booked two adjoining rooms at the Holiday East chain with our corporate rate.
We arrived at 7AM at the general aviation section of the big terminal. That was also the area where the auto rental companies had their facilities located. Our rental office was there and out the door was the auto pickup and drop-off point with our parking area with the 30 rental cars. Charlotte was a major hub for several airlines. It was also a huge NASCAR team area. Historically MAAR rentals had been good there but had declined in the last year by some 20% that we attributed to the owners problems.
The site was to be manned and open at 6 AM until 7 PM by a 4 person team. One of those people was a site manager James Johnson. A second person, Jack Freeburg came in at 11 AM, a delayed time to give the late coverage, the third person, Ray Stanley worked a long Saturday and Sunday – 13 hours each – and was paid for 30 hours. He worked as needed as determined by the manager to total up 40 hours. The fourth person, Charles Dickerson worked 2 to 7 as the cleanup guy keeping the cars clean, and was called the check-in clerk. The manager and the check-in clerk were the only two signatures on all the paper work on the repairs. According to the original job applications the manager had selected the current check-in clerk over better applicants, even though he had failed the pre-employment drug test and had scored poor on the background check. The check-in clerk had listed the site manager as the only character reference.
We turned to corner to look at what should have been our rental site open for business. The security gate was down, the lights were off and no sign of anyone. Across the hall from our outlet was one of those small stores that you see at all airports. As we stood looking at the closed site the man running the cash register yelled across to us, “They usually open between eight and eight thirty.” Marcy remarked, “That explains the 20% drop in rentals.”
All of our rental sites had one of those emergency access key boxes on the wall by the security gate. Marcy used her smart phone to find the code for the Charlotte site and the code for the alarm system. After the gate was up and the lights on we searched the office and found the keys for the cars and everything we needed to rent cars. While Marcy and Jenny fired the computers up I took the auto inventory sheet and went to the parking lot to count cars.
As I went out the door I heard a shout, “Stop police.” I looked to my right to see a man in a ski mask carrying a ladies purse running my way with a security guard in chase. I moved like I was going to back out of the way but instead executed a soccer kick at his knees as he got close enough to make contact. He was laying face down on the sidewalk when the security guard cuffed him.
I looked at the security guard and said, “I think he tripped on something.” The guard replied, “That works for me,” as he smiled.
I checked the cars in our slots and those in the drop-off area. Six were missing. According to the print out four were rented for several days and were not due to be back until Saturday. That left two missing. Back in the office there were no notes on the log indicating where they were.
Marcy and Jenny were both busy with customers. I waited on two fast-tracks customers as they were called. They were regular customers that had one of our corporate cards. All they needed to do was present their license and the tracks card, sign the rental sheet that was completed on line or by phone and we handed them the keys. Those rentals were usually daily rentals. When the car was turned in the check-in clerk filled them with gas that was billed to the rental, cleaned the car if necessary and put them back in line. We had been there less than fifteen minutes and had rented four cars.
I filled Marcy in on the two missing cars. We could speculate where they were with everything we had seen going on at this site. Marcy typed up letters of termination for both the manager and the check-in clerk and sent a copy to HR, also to the girls in the office. The county court system could handle the fraud issues and that could take months to prove, but stealing by forging time sheets was a reasonable cause for immediate termination. Their time sheets showed 6 AM start times but the statement from the vendor across the hall shot that one all to hell. Marcy also disabled all of their computer authorizations and access codes.
Jenny called the state police and talked with their criminal fraud unit. They were going to send a detective right over to see the data that we had. Their barracks must have been close; he was standing in front of us in twenty minutes. Jenny and Marcy spread out the copies of everything including copies of the checks to the dealer that were not deposited in the dealers account. The few that were deposited we figured were legitimate auto repairs. The rest of the checks were signed instead of stamped for deposit. The first signature was not readable. The second signature was the dealer shop supervisor, our site manager, check in clerk or according to the dealer web site the dealers credit manager. Marcy explained the frequency of the same repairs and parts on the same vehicles, sometimes with less than 500 miles.
The detective called for backup. He was going to arrest all four under suspicion of fraud and sweat them as he called it. They handled things in North Carolina a lot different than Maryland, according to Jenny. In Maryland an arrest would have taken weeks to do.
Two of the troopers went to the dealer to arrest the culprits there. The chief detective and his supervisor were putting the evidence in order when the former manager walked in, “Who are you people and what are you doing in here?”
“I am BJ Jones President of Jones Business Groups. JBG owns Mid Atlantic Auto Rentals. This is Marcy De Stone, Executive Vice President and CFO. MAAR and day to day operations is her domain. This is Jennifer Coles, Executive Vice President and Legal Affairs,” I said
“I checked the car inventory and there are two unaccounted for. Where are they?” I asked.
James responded, “I dropped 862 off at the dealer to get the brakes replaced and I picked up the 630 that they did yesterday,” as he handed me the invoice. I passed it to Marcy.
Marcy said, “630 is a 2011 with 15k miles and this is the second brake job on the front axle in a 1000 miles. 862 is a 2010 with 20000 miles and this would be the fourth brake job in four months and 2500 miles. Don’t you find that a little odd?”
James replied, “Well you know how people that rent cars take care of them. By the way who are those two gentlemen?”
“This is State police Detective David Hoggs and his assistant Detective Bryan Strong; they are from the fraud unit,” I said.
Detective Hoggs said, “We will have your car picked up and inspected at our shop this morning, if you don’t mind, as part of the case and return it this afternoon.”
Marcy said, “This is for you,” and handed James his termination papers. “You were paid to have this site opened at 6, not 8:30. The IT department just sent me a text to the effect that the computers haven’t been logged in before 8:30 on week days for several months. The dealer where you have been having all these fraudulent repairs done has a free pickup service for fleet repairs. That just raises one more red flag to your actions here. I will take your keys and ID card.”
James became belligerent and at that point the detective cuffed him. I took a flashlight from under the counter and went out to the parking area and looked under car 630. There were no new brake parts on the front end. According to the invoice that James handed Marcy there should have been new rotors, brake pads and calipers, brake hoses and tie rod ends. I went inside and informed the detective of my find. They wanted to inspect the car and compare it to the invoice. They would have both cars done and back in our hands by noon. They were going to be back a little before 2 to pick up the cleanup guy if he came in.
Among the three of us we rented several more cars and checked in a couple before 11 AM. At 11 Jack Freeburg came in to start his shift. We questioned him at length. He admitted that he knew something was going on but the manager was always secretive around him. He said he even passed on his concerns to the auditors about the manager and Dickerson but they were not interested. He also said that Ray Stanley was a good guy.
We found out that Jack’s wife had left just a few days ago to spend a few weeks with her sister whom was diagnosed with cancer several weeks ago. I asked if he was open to a shift change and some overtime.
“I can use all the time I can get. My wife’s sister needs all the help she can get. They are not well off and we have been helping some for a while,” Jack said.
“If you are up for the challenge the manager’s slot is open. The pay is $750 plus 2.5% – it doesn’t pay overtime. I should tell you that that Dickerson is going to be fired also. He is involved in the thefts,” Marcy said.
Jack responded, “I will take the manager’s slot. I was in line for it before they brought James in. I am sure I can make it work out. There is a vet across the hall in my apartment building that has been looking for job for several months if you are going to replace Dickerson. He seems like a good kid.”
“See if you can get in contact with him, we will be here all day and are staying overnight. We will be leaving at 9:30 AM,” I said.
“Are you up to doing some on the job training? We have hired four college seniors for our administrative office. They should learn the business from the ground up. This looks like a good spot to do just that. I can send each of them down for two weeks to learn the customer side and they will have a better understanding when they sit behind the desk,” Marcy said. “That will help you with the labor problem short term.”
“Be glad to do that for you,” Jack said.
“The rentals were down 20% in the last year. What do we need to do to get them back up?” Marcy asked.
“James and his lazy attitude is why they are down. This is the best spot in the building, open on time and with enough cars we can get the 20 back plus 20 more. We were always short cars before James took over,” Jack said.
At two both our cars were back. Detective Hoggs had Dickerson in custody. At 2:30 three gentlemen in fancy suits accompanied by Detective Hoggs came in. Detective Hoggs made the introductions. Max Kelly was president of Charlotte Ford, Lincoln, Nissan and Toyota.
Max Kelly was more than upset that anything so brazen could happen at his dealership. “We thought we had enough internal checks in place to prevent something like this from ever happening. We will cooperate 110% with the state to help prosecute those responsible to the fullest. We want to clear our business name. We will do whatever it takes. MAAR has been a long time business partner and we want to continue that business relationship. Come up with a number and we will write you a check for the full amount,” he said.
Marcy replied, “We want to work through this issue as well but at this stage that may be premature. We are going to wait until the police complete the investigation before we take any actions. On a different note we are going to purchase a lot of new cars. According to the information I have, your bids have always been competitive so continuing to be business partners may be in both our best interest.”
Max Kelly gave all of us his business card with his personal home and cell number on them. The conversation ended with Kelly saying, “Call me direct any time for anything related to this or any thing auto related.”
We walked through the wing of the terminal where all the auto rental companies were located. We were just looking at what the others were offering. Jack had been right; we did have the best spot in the place. When you left the terminal MAAR was the first place you came to. Unless you had made arrangements with the other big names we had the best chance of getting your business.
When we walked back into our site a sharp dressed young man was sitting at one of the desk filling out the employment application Marcy had left with Jack. When he had finished Jack introduced us to Oscar Portman. We did the interview and filled the check-in position. He was to start tomorrow at 2 with starting pay at $12.50; overtime was at Jacks discretion.
Jack did want the hours of the clean-up man changed from a late shift to a morning shift. “The mornings are the busiest at this airport. The afternoons are slow, the late man has plenty of time to check in cars and if they need gas just leave a note for it to be done in the morning,” he said.
With all the issues resolved we called home for a conference call for today’s update; we spent two hours on the call. We left for supper at seven and called it a night.
We would be back at 6 AM to watch and learn ourselves before flying home and then to Ohio.
Edit by Alfmeister