The five-year saga of the mentally ill West Seattle man who kept $100,000 in his dresser drawers only to have it ripped off by a gang of Huling Brothers used-car salesmen--who also stole the new $30,000 truck they sold him for cash--is not over yet. Though victim Richard Grey got his money back after police cracked the case and has since dropped out of sight, employees who worked for Huling's successor, Gee Automotive, have just been told by a federal judge they can continue their court battle for the back pay they lost, an indirect result of the crimes against Gray.
Between the sale and the swindle, two other Huling salesmen allegedly broke into Grey's apartment, filching the last of his stash, at least $70,000 in big bills, from a dresser. It was one of just a few pieces of furniture and a mattress in Grey's one-bedroom, $99-a-month rent-subsidized unit, where the burglars had to step around human waste on a urine-soaked carpet.
Almost a dozen Huling sales personnel either directly participated or knew about the thefts, but never spoke up. The frenzy to exploit Grey reached such a boiling point that two or three separate pairs of salesman heist teams were tripping over each other trying to loot Grey's apartment at the same time. Three salesmen were charged.
The Hulings and the new owners, Gee, got into a court battle when Gee went under in 2007. Gee blamed the Hulings, claiming the bad publicity brought down the business; the Hulings (who didn't disclose the ongoing police probe during the sale) said it was Gee's own marketing failure. They eventually settled through arbitration.
At closing, Gee almost immediately terminated its employees, who went to court, filing a violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) act. Under that law, 60 days notice of closing--and continued payroll--is required. Last year, a Seattle federal judge ruled in favor of Gee, concluding the firm's 120 employees "voluntarily departed."
But last Friday, a three-judge U.S. Ninth Circuit panel reversed that finding, concluding the Seattle district court wrongly interpreted the term "voluntary departure" to include situations where employees leave a company because it is closing. "Such an interpretation contradicts both the general structure and purpose of the WARN Act," the panel said.
Gee's employees can now go back to court for further hearings here. As for Grey, 64, he received $99,000 in 2007 from Steve Huling, who sold the dealership after the crimes occurred. The money went into an interest-bearing account, since Grey was confined at Western State Hospital. He was last reported to be living in a group home, but his whereabouts couldn't be determined last week.