By Georgetown Record Citizen | March 30, 2021
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has filed a lawsuit against a North Andover driving school that closed after its owner was arrested for trafficking methamphetamine, leaving more than 1,500 students without refunds for services for which they had paid over $1 million in total to the school.
The AG’s Office is also seeking a preliminary injunction to preserve any assets for consumer restitution. A hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction has been set for April 1 at 2 p.m. in Essex Superior Court. Through its lawsuit and preliminary injunction motion, the AG’s Office is seeking full refunds of over $1 million in restitution to affected consumers.
The AG’s Office filed the lawsuit on Thursday in Essex Superior Court against North Andover Auto School, LLC (NAAS), also doing business as MV Auto School, and its owner, Michael J. Larocque, 56, of Lawrence, for violating the state’s Consumer Protection Act. The complaint alleges that the defendants accepted prepayment for services from consumers, but after their licenses were revoked, the defendants couldn’t deliver those services and didn’t provide any refunds.
“The closure of this business left hundreds of student drivers stranded with no way to complete their courses or obtain refunds for services they already paid for,” said AG Healey. “We’ve moved quickly to preserve the defendants’ assets so they can be used for consumer restitution and are seeking more than $1 million in full refunds for impacted consumers.”
The AG’s Office initiated a civil investigation into potential consumer protection violations after receiving several consumer complaints and being contacted by the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).
“The RMV’s top priority is public safety and our team acted swiftly last fall in the interests of students and families to revoke the associated professional driving school and instructor’s license, collect and verify student records, facilitate student outreach and transfers to another driver’s education program, and initiate a process for accepting financial restitution claims,” said Acting Registrar of Motor Vehicles Colleen Ogilvie. “At that time the RMV also approached the Attorney General’s Office for assistance in this process, and we appreciate their collaboration and partnership in delivering additional support for the students and families who have been impacted by this unfortunate situation.”
NAAS operated RMV-licensed driving schools in North Andover and Haverhill. The company also operated driver’s education programs at North Andover High School and Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover. Larocque was an RMV-licensed driving instructor who owned and operated these schools, including acting as a classroom instructor. The schools provided instruction to primarily teenaged students throughout the North Shore, including those from: North Andover, Andover, Methuen, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Amesbury, Salisbury, Newburyport, West Newbury, Georgetown, Groveland, and Boxford.
In October 2020, the defendants’ licenses to run the driving schools were revoked by the RMV after the Massachusetts State Police arrested Larocque in September 2020 for trafficking methamphetamine.
The AG’s complaint alleges that the abrupt shut down left more than 1,500 students without refunds for prepaid services that NAAS failed to provide. This includes students who had prepaid between $550 and $750 for the full driver’s education course but had yet to complete it. Some of these students had yet to start their course at all, some had completed some or all of the classroom portion of the course, and some had completed some of the on-road instruction portion of the course. The AG’s Office also alleges that the abrupt closure left many consumers without the means to pay another driving school for these services and all consumers faced delays completing a driver’s education course and obtaining their driver’s licenses.
The AG’s complaint further alleges that even before the driving schools closed, NAAS was operating in an unfair and/or deceptive manner because the business misrepresented its ability to provide classroom and driving hours to consumers when it reopened after the COVID-related closure in the spring of 2020.
The AG’s Office is seeking permanent injunctive relief, restitution, and civil penalties through its lawsuit.
Any consumer who was impacted by these practices, and has not heard from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, should file a complaint with the AG’s Office or call the consumer hotline at (617) 727-8400.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Ann Lynch and Kimberly McDonald, of the AG’s Consumer Protection Division, with assistance from Edward Cherubin of the AG’s Civil Investigations Division, Hanan Traiba in the AG’s Western Massachusetts office, and the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.
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