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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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The figure of the proverbial sleazy used-car salesman is ingrained in modern American culture. Picture an ill-fitting plaid sport coat, clashing tie, greasy hair, and shamelessly insincere smile. The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association is aware of this caricature and is trying to combat it. "The image of the used-car business needs improvement," states Tackling the Image Problem, a brochure available to association members. "Comedians and cartoonists have long used the business as a victim of their jokes. A close look, however, shows they actually are not talking about the product (car or truck), but the salesperson. As an example, the frequently used punch line, 'Would you buy a used car from this man?' features in a negative fashion the salesman and not the vehicle being sold."
So would you buy a used car from John Svadbik? You might if you live at the bottom of the transportation food chain; if despite your bad credit rating and low-paying job, you still needed to finance a car in order to function in sprawling South Florida. Bottom feeders such as Svadbik sell cars to a class of consumers who don't qualify for loans from traditional lending institutions or from mainstream used-car operations such as AutoNation USA. Out of necessity they turn to "buy here, pay here" dealers to finance their purchase. Often they default on those loans.
To mitigate the risk, Svadbik and others like him demand substantial sums as a down payment and charge an annual interest rate as high as 30 percent, the maximum legal limit in Florida. Weekly payments are commonly required. And the cars typically are sold "as is," meaning once they roll off the lot, they're the customers' problems.
Svadbik's background is in real estate, but in the early Nineties he began selling used cars alongside his father Anton, who founded Dove Auto Sales in 1984 and now serves as his son's vice president and partner. The pair currently operate two car lots, Coconut Palm Auto Sales in Homestead and South Florida Auto Sales in Perrine. The names of the businesses are subject to change, as are the names of Svadbik's financing companies that administer the loans. (K-T Holdings and Automated Financial are his main lending arms these days.)
John Svadbik is no rogue businessman on the ethical fringe of his profession. A spokeswoman for the Florida branch of the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association was asked if Svadbik is a member in good standing. "Oh, he's more than that," she replied. "He's on our board of directors. He's a regional vice president."
He is also no stranger to the political arena. In 1992 Svadbik ran for state senate from the Kendall area, where he lives. He campaigned as an abortion foe and "a self-proclaimed candidate for change," the Miami Herald reported. "He said he wants to see tough penalties -- like a quarantine -- for AIDS carriers such as prostitutes who knowingly spread the virus." The registered Democrat received only a handful of votes. (Republican Mario Diaz-Balart was the winner.)
In 1994 he threw his political hat into the ring once again, this time in hopes of going to Tallahassee as a state representative. (Democrat Annie Betancourt trounced him in the primary.) His principal issue in that race was crime.
Svadbik attends Riverside Baptist Church in Kendall at least twice per week, according to his ex-wife Linda, and serves on the board of directors of Family First Ministries and the American Family Association of Dade County, two conservative Christian groups headed by antiabortion and anti-homosexual activist Ralf Stores. ("He's always been aboveboard in his dealings with me," Stores says.)
Svadbik keeps a Bible on his desk at work, and his office radio tuned to a Christian station. "Employees of XXX adult businesses (adult bookstores, lingerie modeling, adult nightclubs) ... are not eligible for financing," the Automated Financial credit guidelines state.
Svadbik initially declined to be interviewed by New Times about his business practices. He also declined to address the specific allegations raised by Vickie White, Wade Seaman, Serge Thevenot, and others. Through attorney Steven W. Hyatt, however, he did respond to written questions. Svadbik vehemently denies forging signatures, reselling junked cars, or failing to credit owners with the proceeds of a resale. "Needless to say, Mr. Svadbik is not some 'fly-by-night used-car dealer,'" Hyatt maintains. "He is a respected businessman who is the subject of an unfair attack by an embittered employee."
Sporty Celica -- Priced to Move!
The Celica is an odd fit in the Toyota line. It's not a sedan like the Camry, and it's not quite a sports car, though it is pretty sporty. The first Celicas to arrive in the United States, in 1971, were praised for their innovative styling. A generation later, style is still important, so much so that modern coupes appear as aerodynamic as a worn bar of soap. One particular Celica, a 1986 white two-door, bounced around Fort Myers for a while before landing in Homestead. In August 1996, Daniel Muniz came across it on the Coconut Palm Auto Sales lot and decided to buy it.