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FOX 13 Investigates: Convicted of DUI, a private company told them to pay or lose their cars

Posted at 10:02 PM, Nov 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 15:38:11-04

SANDY, Utah — Zara Hardman has been trying to make amends for her decision to drive drunk in 2018.

An interlock device, attached to the ignition switch on her car, allows her to drive from her home in Murray to her job in North Salt Lake.

“So, if I were to drink and blow into it, it wouldn’t start my vehicle,” Hardman explained.

When she needed an interlock in 2020, Hardman went to Utah’s list of certified providers. Eight companies are currently on the list, including the one Hardman chose – A1 Interlock in Sandy.

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The business relationship ended with Hardman yelling to an A1 employee, “Get out of my car!”

Hardman says A1 threatened to send someone to her home to tow her car if she didn’t go to the company’s shop to make her account “compliant.” A company employee wouldn’t say more, Hardman said.

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When she arrived at A1, an employee entered her car and removed her leased interlock device without her permission, according to audio and video of the episode shared with FOX 13.

“I’ve never been treated like this by a company,” Hardman said.

“Even though I made a mistake three years ago, I shouldn’t have been treated that way or threatened,” she added.

A1 also does business under the name SkyFine USA. Both companies are co-owned by Austin Najib.

“Paying anywhere from $50 to $80 a month,” Najib told FOX 13, “to regain your life, basically, which is the ability to operate your vehicle, go to work, take your kids to school, go to the grocery store, etc., is not an expensive fee to pay to get those privileges back.”

According to an A1 contract from 2020, the base cost to have an interlock installed in $1,198.80. There can be more fees for things like service calls and moving the device into another vehicle.

When a customer doesn’t pay, A1 does not handle it like most businesses. A1 has a clause in its contracts that are not standard in the interlock industry.

The clause says A1 can impound and hold the customers’ cars when they are behind on their bills.

“If they couldn’t pay it,” former A1 employee Cody Lemon said in a 2020 interview recorded by the Driver License Division, “you give them their options, which is, ‘Can you borrow the money from a friend or family member?’

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“If you can’t do that then you have your vehicle sit out in the parking lot for three days. After the fourth, or on the fourth day after the third day, we’ll have it towed.”

Lemon gave that interview as the Driver License Division was investigating customer complaints. The division opted to take no action against A1.

Angelo Rodriguez says A1 held his car. He said and A1 employee told him his interlock was damaged and the company would keep his car until he paid for the damage.

“’Your device has been damaged beyond reasonable wear and tear,’” Rodriguez recounted the employee saying. “’So, we’re going to hold your car until you give us a $1,600 cashier’s check.’”

“When I gave them the cashier’s check,” Rodriguez added, “I still asked them, ‘Where’s the evidence? Where’s the proof? What’s wrong with the device?’”

He says he never got an answer. Rodriguez won a case against A1 when the company failed to answer a complaint in small claims. A1 has since filed a notice to appeal.

“Unfortunately, we deal with a standard thing,” Najib said, “which is individuals coming in and simply not wanting to make a payment for anything.”

Najib says the fees and clauses are outlined in the contracts. He contends holding cars are a better option for customers than pursuing debt collections that will show up on credit reports.

“We have a business to operate,” Najib said. “We are not a nonprofit. And we are here to provide a service and in exchange, customers have to pay a fee for that.”

“Unfortunately,” Najib added, “we have many offenders that decide to, if they’re not happy with a charge, keep in mind, that does not mean it’s not a valid charge. Simply, they are not happy with that fee.”

“So, not one of our customers has ever been taken advantage of.”

Najib declined to say whether any A1 customers have ever lost the titles to their vehicles because of exercising the impound clause.

Records show Sandy police have been called to A1 at least four times in 2020 and 2021 for customers reporting their cars were being held by the company.

A1 last month filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city over an incident where a police officer allegedly told A1 to return a vehicle. A Sandy police spokesman declined to comment to FOX 13.

Ignition interlock providers are certified by the Utah Driver License Division. Tara Zamora, who oversees the certification for the division, said A1 is in good standing and that the number of complaints made against the company is “comparable for a company with as many clients as they have.”

Zamora said her office has encouraged A1 to use other collection means, but there’s no rule against impounding cars.

“But, as far as thee equipment installs and that stuff,” Zamora said, A1 has “been really good with that.”

Hardman is still disputing the charges A1 made on her credit card. She says A1 charged her more for maintenance than what she’d been previously told and no one at the company would explain the extra cost to her.

Unlike some auto services, the Utah Legislature does not place a cap on what ignition interlock companies can charge.

“I’m a professional myself,” Hardman said. “I try my hardest to do the best I can. Even though I made a mistake three years ago, I shouldn’t have been treated that way or threatened.”

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