Cadillac Combat

One day he was the hottest salesman in town. THe next day he was in jail. Strange things can happen when you're engaged in [then the hed ran]

Of all the turkeys Fred Rosenberg ever ate, none tasted better than the one he carved on Thanksgiving Day, 1993. It certainly surpassed the bird he was expecting to be served in the Broward County jail, where, just hours earlier, he had been locked up, facing the prospect of a long weekend in the company of felonious thugs, drug-addled thieves, and other misfits with little appreciation for him or his professional accomplishments. Fred had no prior record; in fact, he didn't even believe he had committed a crime. Still, his lawyer had told him that nothing could be done. Fred's bird was cooked. He was spending Thanksgiving in the slammer.

His wife, however, had other plans. As soon as Cindy Rosenberg returned to their home in North Miami after holiday shopping and discovered that her 53-year-old husband had been arrested -- up in Broward and by a full-fledged FBI task force -- she swung into action. She called her brother, who, though he lived out of state, was quickly able to direct her to a Miami law firm with sufficient clout to spring Fred from the holding tank in Fort Lauderdale. The process took awhile; she and her son didn't pick up Fred until 6:30 the next morning -- sixteen hours after the arrest.

On the drive home, the three decided to keep their mouths shut. Why put a damper on the traditional Thanksgiving family gathering? Besides, none of them relished the thought of telling Fred's mother or the other children about his squabble with his ex-boss and how that apparently caught the attention of law enforcement authorities, who then grabbed poor Fred and threw him in jail. No, better to avoid the sordid subject altogether.

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But as he sat at the dining room table contemplating his forkful of white meat and the family members around him, Fred grew increasingly annoyed at the thought that his ex-boss might have intentionally tried to ruin Thanksgiving for him and his loved ones. For eight years Fred had sold cars for Alan Mandel, not just any cars but Cadillacs, those glamorous showboats of the American highway. Fred sold them better than almost anyone on the planet, which is why, when he quit selling for Mandel, he believes Mandel tried to sabotage his career. In his own way, Fred struck back. Then he got caught. And then he got arrested.

Little did Fred know then, as he savored the three-potato pudding Cindy is so famous for, that a night in the Broward County jail would be nothing compared to what lay ahead, that for two full years the Dade State Attorney's Office would be relentless in prosecuting him on felony criminal charges, and that an unusual insurance claim filed by Mandel might be linked to even more serious criminal charges that would be brought against him. As he finished dessert, all he knew was this: He was in a serious jam.

After the table had been cleared and the family had settled in to relax, an exhausted Fred Rosenberg sat back in his chair. He looked at the expectant faces of his mother and niece. Glancing across the table at his wife, then to all three of his grown children, he adjusted the frames of his wire-rim glasses and sighed deeply. Then, as he knew he must, he began to tell his family what had happened.

A. You've got to know Fred. Fred is an individual, an aggressive individual. And as a salesman, you'd better be aggressive.

Q. Was he a good salesperson?
A. Yes. Very good.
A Deposition of Bernard Lippy, former Ocean Cadillac salesman

A couple sits across from Fred Rosenberg in his cubicle on the showroom floor of University Cadillac in Hollywood. They want to buy a Sedan DeVille, one of the better cars in the Cadillac stable. They could be looking for a stripped-down Cimmaron and Fred would still treat them with the same dignity he'd extend to a man buying a top-of-the-line Seville STS with custom wheels, a sunroof, and an engraved nameplate on the glove box. That's one of the reasons he is the best.

Staring into their eyes, he tries to figure them out. Which one really calls the shots? What is their comfort level on price? Is there some unspoken problem brewing? What will really make them happy? Fred's psychology classes at the University of Miami help at times like these. As he probes he also hammers home the big message: "When you buy a Cadillac, you get up in the morning and you know that when you turn the key, the car will start. And you know that from the moment you step on the gas until you get to your destination, you will be traveling in luxury. It really is a great car."

South Florida happens to be one of those places where great luxury cars are an easy sell. More than 24,000 Cadillac drivers live here, making this one of the best Cadillac sales regions in the entire world. What's more, Cadillac customers are a stupendously loyal breed. It is not uncommon, for example, to find owners who've stayed with the product for 25 years or more. Every two or three years the faithful will renew their leases or trade up to a new car. Cadillacs, it seems, are habit-forming. "They have a tie with these cars," Fred theorizes. "They are comfortable with the touch of luxury and they don't want to give it up."

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