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November 23, 2010 > Local business landmark is gone

Local business landmark is gone

The true story of Signer Buick-Cadillac

In an ironic twist to recent news reports touting the emergence of the "New General Motors," Don Signer said goodbye to the sign that has marked his GM dealership since he opened Fremont's first Buick dealership thirty years ago on November 17, 1980. General Motors terminated Signer Buick-Cadillac's franchises, along with hundreds of others around the U. S., in 2009 when it filed bankruptcy and received a $50 billion taxpayer-funded bailout. The Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry supported GM's termination actions in reliance on GM's statement to Congress that closing dealerships would save the corporation money. While Don closed his business a year ago, the franchise did not terminate until October 31, 2010.

Highly questionable actions by the automotive giant have resulted in the dissolution and ruin of a long-term relationship with a local business and loyal customer base in the Tri-City area. In a well-orchestrated maneuver, as soon as evidence of Signer Buick/Cadillac was removed, another dealership appeared in almost the same location.

The following is Don Signer's account of what transpired:

"Within two hours of the departure of my GM sign, the cover came off a Cadillac sign installed on the former Saturn dealership just two doors away, the new Fremont Buick-GMC-Cadillac operated by GM-appointed dealer Inder Dosanjh. In an action contrary to GM's "money-saving" statement to Congress, GM used its bankruptcy and backing of the Task Force to legalize confiscation my business. GM's action destroyed everything I had worked for, as well as the careers of my loyal employees. It should be noted that in July 2010, a special TARP fund-monitoring unit of the U. S. Treasury Department published a scathing report of GM's unfair dealer termination methods and last month initiated an investigation into possible illegal GM activities.

"GM's taking of my franchises marks the final chapter of a story that began in 1998. In the mid-1990's, GM embarked upon a national plan to take control of dealerships in selected markets, one of which was Signer Buick-Cadillac in Newark, CA. At the end of 1997, GM abruptly removed Newark's Fremont Pontiac-Olds-GMC dealer who filed suit and soon settled with a final date of January 1, 1998. The next day, four picketers appeared in front of my dealership, beginning a seven-day-a-week campaign.

"Shortly thereafter, GM repeatedly asked me to sell my franchises back to it, wishing to assign my franchises to the dealer it had appointed to take over the Pontiac dealership. I had no interest in selling. In August, the Pontiac dealer resigned, the picketers disappeared and GM ended its attempts to persuade me to sell... at least for the time being. At that time, I attempted to buy the Pontiac-Olds-GMC dealership from GM but it declined without stating a reason. My assessment of the picketers' role can be found on my website, donsigner.com.

"My story is even more bizarre considering GM's actions before and after the 1998 events; actions that turned my achievement of the American dream into a nightmare - one hard to believe in the United States of America.

"While operating in my facility on Fremont Boulevard in the late 1980's, I co-developed the Fremont Auto Mall concept in a complicated venture involving all Fremont dealers (except Ford and Chevrolet), the City of Fremont, and landowner Catellus Development Corporation. In 1990, GM awarded me Fremont's first Cadillac franchise with the requirement to relocate Cadillac with Buick to the Fremont Auto Mall. I purchased DiGiulio Pontiac-GMC in 1991 with the intention of relocating those brands to the Auto Mall as well, but GM disapproved the transaction, objecting to four franchises located in one place, even though its national plan was for Buick, Pontiac, and GMC to be housed together.

"After five years and $160,000 invested in the Auto Mall development, in 1992 GM informed me that it wanted to relocate my franchise to a site in Newark instead. For months I successfully resisted this illogical plan that would isolate my business from the high volume Auto Mall dealers, including all of Cadillac's thriving luxury import competitors. In early 1993, GM used strong-arm tactics that left me no choice but to build on GM's site in Newark instead. I was forced to forfeit time and money spent on the Auto Mall and reluctantly relocated to Newark in 1995.

"Following the GM-appointed Pontiac dealer's 1998 resignation, GM appointed a second, then a third operator for the dealership in 2000. In 2004, I again attempted unsuccessfully to buy the higher volume Pontiac-GMC dealership. Buick sales had been plummeting for years as GM was phasing the brand out while it shifted its emphasis to trucks. In late 2004, unbeknownst to me, GM secretly developed a plan to relocate the Newark dealers to the Fremont Auto Mall, intending for its Pontiac-GMC dealer to take over my Buick and Cadillac franchise. In early 2005, multiple GM employees attempted to persuade me to sell. As in 1998, I refused.

"As GM's Fremont Auto Mall Buick-Pontiac-GMC-Cadillac plan was the same one it denied me in the early 1990's, GM could have considerable liability for my lost profits and the resulting worthlessness of the Newark facility I built at GM's insistence. Following GM's early 2005 unsuccessful attempts to persuade me to sell, a shocking series of highly unusual damaging events occurred. I believe that these were instigated by GM to financially and emotionally weaken me and force a sale of my franchises before I learned of the Fremont Auto Mall plan. This is described in detail with supporting documents at www.donsigner.com.

"The first of these damaging events was a grueling, unjustified warranty audit in July 2005, which I later learned was locally generated and not approved by GM warranty home office. I subsequently exposed the malicious nature of the audit to an involved mid-level GM manager, who replied, "It wasn't one of our prouder moments."

"The second damaging event was a first ever IRS audit of the dealership corporation in July 2005. In an eerie "coincidence," the IRS sent notice of the audit to me just two days after the conclusion of the warranty audit, thus providing a one-two punch. Among many items that strongly suggest that GM instigated the IRS audit as harassment was an incriminating pair of documents.

"An internal GM e-mail sequence involving four GM employees dated April 13, 2005 reported my refusal to sell, and outlined a scheme to induce my exit to clear the way for GM's secret Fremont Auto Mall project. An internal IRS file document revealed that the July 2005 audit process was initiated on April 14, 2005, in eerie "coincidence" the day after the GM e-mails. I obtained these internal documents in 2008 and 2009 through court proceedings and the Freedom of Information Act.

"The third and fourth damaging events were a GMAC defamatory act and an illegal financial information-sharing scheme with GM in February 2006. My exposure of the malicious GM/GMAC conspired plot was followed by a profuse apology and the resignation of two involved mid-level GMAC employees in mid-career "to spend more time with their families." A GMAC Vice-President expressed his anger to me about the occurrence as "eleven on a scale of ten."

"The fifth damaging act was a first-ever personal IRS audit in 2007-2008, concerning my 2005 tax return. Among many items that strongly suggest that GM also instigated this audit is the internal IRS file that reveals the audit was internally initiated on January 12, 2007, exactly one week after an attorney sent an e-mail to GM indicating that I might file suit. In October 2006, I had proposed an amicable resolution, good until December 2006, requesting GM compensation for its damaging actions. GM responded by urging me not to sue, and immediately referred the proposal to GM senior management.

"Despite GM's indication of great concern for the many highly improper GM actions that I had documented, it failed to respond by December, which thus led to the aforementioned attorney's January e-mail to GM urging it to settle to prevent filing of a lawsuit. GM later responded to my attorney that it was declining the proposal, after which, with great reluctance, I filed suit in February. More on this later...

"The internal IRS document file revealed that the auditing Revenue Agent wanted to accept my 2005 tax return as filed, but he was overridden by his manager who charged him with the awkward task of crafting a reason to disallow a certain legitimate deduction I had taken. The Agent ultimately did so, and in June 2008 presented me with a six-figure tax assessment resulting from the seemingly baseless ruling. I contested the ruling, and finally in October 2010, the IRS conceded that it was wrong and reversed the ruling, accepting my return as originally filed.

"Based on a well-documented complaint of suspected GM/IRS collusion in the two IRS audits I filed with the internal fraud unit of the U. S. Treasury Department, in September 2010, an investigation was launched and continues today. Among the documents cited are some from the internal IRS file that appear to be falsified. This investigation of suspected wrongdoing is unrelated to the TARP unit's investigation of possible GM illegal dealer termination actions.

"Following filing of my lawsuit against GM and GMAC in February 2007, GM attempted a Demurrer dismissal. In mid-2007, the judge ruled against dismissal, and upheld eight counts against GM and GMAC going forward to trial. Following the judge's retirement in August 2008, GM attempted Summary Judgment dismissal with the new judge in February 2009. In an extremely rare and disturbing action in May 2009, the new judge dismissed all eight counts after 27 grueling months of preparation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. This shocking action prevented me from presenting my case to a jury.

"In January 2009, Fremont Pontiac-GMC closed permanently, representing GM's third failed plan for that dealership. At that time, I again requested that GM award those two franchises that would restore viability to my dealership, and comply with GM's Buick-Pontiac-GMC combination plan. GM declined once again, this time citing the lawsuit. GM later eliminated Pontiac when it filed bankruptcy, and awarded the GMC franchise to Mr. Dosanjh along with my Buick and Cadillac franchises."


While much of the information relayed by Mr. Signer is difficult to believe, documentation at www.donsigner.com supports his allegations. The underbelly of large corporate American business is often stranger than fiction and fodder for outrageous scripts that emerge from Hollywood. It is unfortunate that a local, long term resident and business has been the subject of such treatment. Don Signer's background and community involvement is the subject of an article printed in Tri-City Voice on August 17, 2004 (http://www.tricityvoice.com/articledisplay.php?a=2814).

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