Beyond the hard sell

Auburn auto dealers charged with making threatening phone calls

Lynne Booker poses outside the car she bought with settlement money she received for enduring threats from an Auburn auto dealer.

Lynne Booker poses outside the car she bought with settlement money she received for enduring threats from an Auburn auto dealer.

Photo by Larry Dalton

The harassment and threats started about a year ago over a 1992 Plymouth Acclaim. Lynne Booker bought the $5,000 car from Magnussen’s Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep in Auburn under the impression that they would give her financing. She explained she had bad credit. They said they’d work something out. Or so she thought.

Booker was pleased with the car. In fact, she had already been driving it for weeks when the disputes about financing erupted between her and the dealership. She knew then that she wasn’t going to keep the car, but she needed it to get around. She was also in the process of filing for bankruptcy, and her attorney advised her that she would be within the law to keep the car until the dealership repossessed it. So she decided to hold on to the car, hide it and cancel her down-payment check.

That’s when the phone calls started:

“Ms. Booker, this is Larry Carmean calling again. I want my car back. Do you understand? You’re gonna be prosecuted. I want my car back now!” said one of the messages on her answering machine.

“Yes, this is Magnussen’s Dodge calling. We just called your supervisor at Apple Computer, Michael, telling what a fucking flake you are ’cause you won’t bring the fucking car back. You’re being watched every second. We want our fucking car back. Do you understand me, you cock-sucking motherfucker? I want my fucking car back, you dickhead.”

“This is no association with Magnussen’s Dodge. This is your worst nightmare. Make your threats directly to me. We can meet with guns, knives, whatever you want to meet with, OK. I will find the car at the bottom of the cliff along with your body. Have a good day.”

“The police can’t help you. I’m a two-time loser. I’m ’bout to become a three-time loser. I will go back to prison. Have a good evening. It’s gonna be your worst.”

“I’m coming for you. I’m coming at your work, at the computer place. I will get you fired. I will make your life a fucking hell before I kill you. You fuck with the wrong motherfucker. You have no clue what kind of shit you have just stepped into.”

Booker was stunned and dismayed by the language in the phone messages. “What I thought was how can grown men that are supposed to be running a business have time to make threats?” she said. “I was scared because anyone who would be that dumb to leave a message on tape like that—who’s to say what else they would do?”

Larry Carmean, who declined comment for this story, is general manager and vice president of Magnussen’s. He was named as one of the defendants in a civil lawsuit Booker filed in July against the dealership. The suit alleged that Carmean knew the phone calls were being made, and/or made them himself. It further alleged that the dealership allowed the employees to threaten and harass Booker “in a rude, vulgar, violent and vicious manner.”

Booker did later return the car, and the suit never went to trial. According to Booker, she was offered an out-of-court settlement of $20,000 for dropping the suit. But now she wants the people who threatened her to go to jail.

“I did not make a lot of money off of this case,” she said. “When I walked out of this and paid everybody, I got about $6,500, which is not a lot.” It was enough, however, for her to put a down payment on the van she is now driving, and she is happy about that.

“But what I want is for them to be punished,” she insisted. “It caused stress and fighting between us [her and her husband], almost ruined our marriage. I lost a job I had because of this. It almost wrecked my family. I don’t feel I’ve been compensated for that.”

Then why didn’t she just give the car back when things got out of hand?

She now wishes she hadn’t taken her bankruptcy attorney’s advice. “Granted I wasn’t innocent either. I was wrong, I was stupid for listening,” she admitted. “But what they did went way, way overboard.”

Detective Greg Stewart of the Sacramento Police Department thought so too. “When I first heard the tapes, I was shocked,” he said. “I thought to myself, I can’t believe that a legitimate business is going to this extreme over a car.”

Through phone traps, Stewart traced the calls back to two different sources both connected with Larry Carmean and his brother, Dennis. According to Stewart, Dennis Carmean has previous arrests on his record. Through a search warrant, Stewart obtained a phone log from two different phone numbers that matched several of the phone calls and voice recordings Booker saved.

In his report, Stewart classified the crimes as “terrorist threats,” a felony. The case was then turned over to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, where it was reclassified. Currently, Larry and Dennis Carmean are charged with misdemeanors for making annoying/repeated phone calls. If convicted, they would most likely receive some sort of community service.

Booker is outraged that the charges have been downgraded to misdemeanors. “If I were to do the same thing to that dealership, threatening them like that, I would’ve been locked up a long time ago,” she speculated. “I feel they [Magnussen’s] are being given special privilege because they have money and they’re a big dealership.”

“I can certainly understand why she would want more done,” said Deputy District Attorney Doug Hamilton, who filed the case. “In the 20-something years I’ve been in this office, what we do is never enough for the victims and always too much for the suspect. The victim is always wanting us to prosecute cases to the full extent of the law. If someone takes a swing at it, they want to prosecute for attempted murder, and the defendants and suspects are always saying we’re riding them too hard.”

He also understands why Booker was frightened and concerned. “That happens every time someone makes a threat to somebody,” he said. “We see that going on with everybody in the world now who gets a piece of mail that they think has strange markings on it and is convinced that Osama bin Laden is out to get them.

“I’m not trying to downplay one bit what Ms. Booker feels about this,” he added. “But I think it’s common that people who receive threats are quite literally afraid for their lives, and they don’t sleep well at night, and it doesn’t matter who it comes from.”

According to Hamilton, his evaluation of the case was based upon how realistic he thought it was that the threats might be carried out. Because the circumstances stemmed from a business transaction between people who didn’t have an ongoing history of bad blood between them, he didn’t believe the threats were real—even though one of the suspects did have a past criminal record.

“That was something I did consider,” he noted, “and I know that there were some concerns she had that a car was seen driving by her house. But there’s just not enough evidence to say for sure that these people were the people in that car.”

Hamilton said he considered everything in the case and thought Booker did everything she was supposed to do. “But we have a responsibility not just to Lynne Booker but to the population of Sacramento County as a whole, so based on that light, that’s how we evaluate these cases and any other case we get,” he explained. “We have to go on what we can prove in court, not what someone speculated about in the report.”