Sandra Cortez, a 62-year-old grandmother and retired accountant, went to purchase a brand new silver Subaru back in 2005. What happened shocked and terrified her. The dealership staff threatened to call the FBI and have her hauled away as a suspected terrorist.
"I thought I would be driving my new car back to work after lunch," said Cortez. "I couldn't imagine what would happen next."
When the dealership ran a routine credit check they received an alert that indicated that the woman was on a government list of suspected terrorists, international drug traffickers and others associated with weapons of mass destruction.
Republic Magazine reports,
Despite the fact that Cortez had a 761 credit score and money for a down-payment, the dealership’s manager balked at the sale after running Cortez’s credit history through the TransUnion credit rating service. Rather than closing the deal on the $18,000 Subaru Forrester, the manager – his face drawn into a “stern look” – assailed the puzzled woman with a series of “strange questions”: “Were you born in the United States? Have you always lived in the U.S.? When is the last time you left the country?”
TransUnion had notified the dealership that Cortez’s name was on the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control list owing to its resemblance to a “specially designated individual” from Colombia named Sandra Cortez Quintera.
This was obviously a coincidence involving a very common Latino name (it’s akin to the incidental similarity between, say, a U.S.-born woman named Margaret Lindsay, and an Irish terrorism suspect named Maggie Lindsay O’Reilly). However, under the so-called USA PATRIOT Act, businesses such as the John Elway Subaru dealership in Denver face draconian fines and prison sentences for extending credit to anyone suspected of terrorist connections (unless, of course, they are connected to terrorist groups currently favored by Washington, such as the Iranian Islamo-Marxist cult called the MEK). Rather than selling Cortez the car, the dealership detained her at the office while it consulted with the FBI.
She eventually hired Jim Francis, a consumer-law attorney in Philadelphia, and sued TransUnion. Cortez endured a grueling legal battle that included a trial and years of appeals. She originally was awarded $750,000 by a jury, but that later was reduced to $150,000. And the government took about a third of it in taxes.
Ms. Cortez was kept at the dealership for hours wondering when agents would come in with guns, handcuff her and take her to jail. It never happened. The dealership would not give her the keys to her car. She was finally sent home around 5:30pm after having been there for four and a half hours.
A little over an hour later she calls the dealership and is transferred to their top manager who apologizes for the mistake. Thirty minutes later she arrives at the dealership and is treated like a VIP. She gets $100 in free gas, dinner for her and her family and a sincere apology from the staff. She also got her car, though that wasn't free.
"Most people think if you pay your bills on time, you will be OK in the credit world," Cortez said. "But that's not how it always works. And sometimes, the mistakes can be paralyzing."
Of course there should be a way to handle such an incident to insure you have the right person when running a check like that and get an alert. Names alone, in this society, should not be enough to hold someone and terrify them of being assumed a terrorist without something more. While the John Elway Subaru dealership should not be held responsible for the alert, they really should rethink their policy on what to do in that situation. I do commend them on how they handled it later, but there needs to be a serious evaluation of what to do should a similar event happen in the future.
The most infuriating thing is the fact that the Regime still refuses to take Cortez’s name off the list.