With Bridgestone/Firestone's help, the Michigan Attorney General's office has put an end to an alleged illegal operation involving used Firestone tires.
Michigan Attorney General Jennifer M. Granholm filed felony charges May 15 against Vernald Cole, 55, a used tire dealer in Remus, Mich. The case, filed in 77th District Court in Big Rapids, accuses Mr. Cole of ``intentionally misrepresenting the quality or identity of a motor vehicle part'' by selling used Firestone tires with the Department of Transportation identification numbers removed.
The charge carries a penalty under Michigan law of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
The tires involved in the case were among the 13 million Ford Motor Co. removed from service last year as part of a consumer satisfaction program, Ms. Granholm's office stated in a May 15 press release.
Although the used tires in this program were supposed to be destroyed, Mr. Cole allegedly bought some of them and removed the DOT numbers with a sharp, hook-bladed knife before selling them cheaply over the Internet.
``Without a visible DOT number, there is no way to specifically identify a tire,'' the press release stated. Many of the tires looked new, further confusing consumers, it added.
Ms. Granholm held four press conferences, in Detroit, Lansing, Flint and Grand Rapids May 15, to announce the charges against Mr. Cole. Bridgestone/Firestone officials accompanied Ms. Granholm at each stop.
BFS employees first discovered Mr. Cole's operation last year, when they found Internet ads for Firestone tires at steep discounts. The company hired a private investigator, who traced the ads to Mr. Cole.
In September 2001, the investigator visited Mr. Cole in Remus, finding three sheds filled with tires. Many of the tires were Firestones, and many of those had their DOT numbers cut off, the release stated. The investigator made a deal with Mr. Cole to buy 1,000 Firestone tires, and took eight samples with him. He then turned over the evidence to Ms. Granholm's office, the DOT and the Michigan State Police.
Investigators from all three agencies seized one of Mr. Cole's trucks Oct. 5, containing 500 Firestone tires with the DOT numbers removed.
``We are very supportive of the attorney general's actions,'' a BFS spokeswoman said. ``This is also a safety issue, because in removing the DOT number, you create a 4-inch gouge in the sidewall that of course weakens the sidewall.''
Ford announced its customer satisfaction program last May, in addition to the 6.5 million tires Bridgestone/Firestone already had recalled in connection with a government investigation. The tire maker, which disagreed with Ford's action, publicly broke with the auto manufacturer the day before the program was announced.