Bankruptcy and Auto Dealers and Retail and Real Estate & Retail

Three failed businesses sink former Carson foe Dickerson

June 16, 2008

Former car dealer and congressional candidate Eric Dickerson has filed for personal bankruptcy after three failed businesses left him saddled with more than $1 million in debt.

Dickerson says he is virtually broke save for a $101,000 inheritance he is set to receive from the estate of his late mother. He claims only a few assets, including $10 in cash, 7 cents in a Chase Bank checking account, 25 cents in a Fidelity Investments account, two late-model Chevy trucks worth about $3,000, and a horse, pony and four chickens worth $250. He lives with his girlfriend on a five-acre spread in Sheridan.

Most of Dickerson's debts are connected to businesses he formerly owned--a Buick dealership on North Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis, a collision-repair center in Westfield, and a Maggie Moo's ice cream shop in Circle Centre mall.

Dickerson, 58, made a name for himself locally with low-key commercials for Eric Dickerson Buick and his upstart bid for Congress in 2006, when he came within 8 percentage points of unseating the late Julia Carson. He is not related to the football player of the same name.

Dickerson did not return phone messages left at his office at Allison Transmission, where he works in public relations, or with his attorney, Niccole Sadowski of locally based William J. Tucker & Associates LLC. Sadowski said she was not authorized to talk about the case but promised to pass a message to Dickerson.

Several creditors were bearing down on Dickerson when he filed the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case in March. He had lost lawsuits brought by Tom Wood dealerships over business trade debt and a customer of Eric Dickerson Buick who said the dealership didn't deliver on a promotional offer.

Key Bank was foreclosing on a $100,000 home-equity loan taken out on an Indianapolis home where he used to live. A judge had entered a default judgment against Dickerson over Maggie Moo's. And in February, a Hamilton County judge ordered garnishment of Dickerson's wages to pay back his debts to Tom Wood.

Among other debts Dickerson lists in the filing: $87,000 owed to Westfield-based Candler Realty for remaining payments under a lease for Eric Dickerson Buick; $100,000 to BASF Group for equipment; $34,000 on a Chase Bank business account; $34,000 on a Fifth Third Bank business account; and $330,000 for an equipment lease from Ohio-based Reyna Corp.

He also lists several debts connected to his Maggie Moo's franchise, which was held under the corporate name School's Out Corp.

The state is one of School's Out's largest creditors. The company owes $37,000 in unpaid sales taxes, $10,700 for food and beverage taxes, and about $3,500 in unpaid withholding taxes, records show. Dickerson also owes Circle Centre manager Simon Property Group Inc. $75,000 for unpaid rent and $61,000 to locally based Bay Treats Corp.

A native of Detroit and a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot, Dickerson for years headed public relations and advertising for the Allison Gas Turbine jet engine plant, which at the time was owned by GM but now is part of Rolls-Royce Group. He began his current job, which pays $120,000 a year, in December 2007, the bankruptcy filing shows.

When GM still owned the plant in the early 1990s, Dickerson was asked to fly a company helicopter to give one of the automaker's top executives a tour of Indiana plants. The passenger was Harry Pearce, who rose to become GM's No. 2 executive. Pearce and Dickerson hit it off. Both had been military pilots. Pearce then told Dickerson, who is black, about a GM program that helped train minorities to own and operate dealerships.

In 1997, Dickerson took Pearce up on his offer, attending the National Automotive Dealer Academy in Virginia and later learning the ropes at a local Tom Wood dealership.

He acquired a Buick dealership at 7250 N. Keystone Ave. in 1999, and the move seemed to work out for Dickerson, despite falling sales for Buick. Twice, the dealership ranked No. 1 in sales for the automaker's 10-state sales district.

Dickerson turned over daily operation of the dealership to his son, Blan, while he took on Julia Carson for the 7th Congressional District seat.

But he abruptly sold the dealership to the Ed Martin Automotive Group in August 2006, shortly after Fifth Third Bank sued the dealership, alleging it had defaulted on more than $3.5 million in loans used to purchase vehicle inventory.

The bank accused the dealership of filing false financial statements and failing to promptly pay Fifth Third when it sold vehicles. Dickerson and the bank agreed to a settlement when he sold the dealership.

Dickerson and Blan were working on opening Westfield Collision Repair by March 2006, IBJ reported in February 2006. The listed number for Westfield Collision Repair now is disconnected.

Marvin Recht, a longtime friend of Dickerson's, expects his former colleague at Allison will figure a way out of his troubles.

"His glass is always half full," said Recht, now a professor at Butler University, where Dickerson has been one of the best guest speakers in his classrooms, weaving tales about the twists and turns of his career.

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