Iowa mechanic ordered to pay $7.2M to ex-Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle over classic cars
A boutique mechanic in Iowa accused of faking the authenticity of a vintage sports car he sold and overcharging for service work on multiple rare vehicles has been ordered to pay $7.2 million to former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle.
Oesterle, an entrepreneur and self-described avid classic car collector, took The Healey Werks Corp., which operated near Lawton, and its owner, Craig Hillinger, to court in Iowa in 2020. His lawsuit claims Hillinger pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars through deceptive act after deceptive act during their 10-year-plus relationship.
It started in 2010 when Oesterle sent a 1967 Maserati Ghibli, purchased for $16,000, to Hillinger for restoration work. Hillinger told Oesterle the work would finish in one to two years and cost no more than $200,000, according to the lawsuit.
Four years later, the job still hadn’t been completed, and Hillinger invoiced Oesterle for just over $1 million, the complaint states.
Briggs:Bill Oesterle is dying. His last act is a sales pitch for Indiana.
Hillinger was also accused of carrying out complete restorations on cars even though Oesterle asked only for smaller projects or declined service work entirely. The hefty bills that followed included charges for incomplete labor or unnecessary parts, the lawsuit states.
In one instance, Hillinger convinced Oesterle to go in on a purchase with him of an Austin-Healey 100M sports car. Hillinger told Oesterle, who gave $50,000 for the car, that it was a coveted factory model but needed some assembly, according to the complaint. It stayed with Hillinger until 2021.
When Oesterle finally received the vehicle, he “discovered that the 100M was not a factory 100M as Hillinger had promised,” the lawsuit states.
“Hillinger told Bill the 100M would cost approximately $10,000 to assemble and sent Bill an invoice for over $130,000.00,” according to the complaint. “The 100M was never assembled.”
The identification mishap “will cause Bill to lose an enormous amount of money.”
In November, Iowa District Court Judge James Daane of the 3rd Judicial District, based in Sioux City, found that Healey Werks Corp. committed fraud against Oesterle and violated the state’s motor vehicle services trade law.
Bill Oesterle on ALS:'It’s a weird gift to know about when you’re going to die.'
“I want others in the classic car community to be aware of this situation,” Oesterle said in a prepared statement.
“It’s a difficult process to find authentic parts and materials, and to find credible people with the expertise to properly restore these beautiful machines,” he added. “Often that means you have to trust people across the country, or even the world, to deliver on what they say they have and what they can do. I would hate to know other collectors have been treated this way.”
Daane found that Oesterle suffered damages of $2.4 million, but the award was tripled in line with Iowa's motor vehicle services trade law because of the "willful and wanton disregard" for Oesterle's rights. On top of the $7.2 million judgment, Healey Werks also has to pay Oesterle court costs and attorneys’ fees.
Hillinger had filed for bankruptcy protection, which delayed court proceedings against him. But Healey Werks itself was still exposed because it hadn’t filed for bankruptcy, so Daane allowed Oesterle’s suit against the company to go to trial in early November.
Call IndyStar courts reporter Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Iowa vintage car mechanic ordered to pay $7.2M to ex-Angie's List CEO