The former owner of Adams Motor Company whose dealerships fell into financial ruin and who pleaded guilty last year to fraudulent sales practices is suing the Iowa Department of Transportation to stop it from interfering with his potential employment at other dealerships, according to court records.
Bob Adams, 60, of Breda, had been working for a Storm Lake dealership for about a year when the transportation department contacted the dealership in March 2020 and threatened to revoke its license if it continued to employ Adams, court records show.
Adams, who has worked in auto sales for three decades, lost his job.
He had owned dealerships for more than a decade before he was arrested in 2018 for 16 felony charges for theft, fraudulent sales practices and ongoing criminal conduct.
Adams also was sued by his creditors in state and federal court that resulted in judgments against him that totaled more than $1 million. In his criminal case, he was accused of selling vehicles on which he owed money but didn’t repay the loans. He was accused of selling vehicle warranties and insurance policies that he didn’t activate and of charging his customers inflated amounts for tax, title and license fees.
He has been forced to repay thousands of dollars to some of those customers.
Despite facing decades in prison for the crimes, Adams received a deferred judgment and three years of probation in exchange for his guilty plea to one of those charges. He will not be formally convicted of the crime if he successfully completes probation and could have the details of his criminal case expunged from the public court record.
After his arrest, Adams worked briefly for a dealership in Stuart and later was hired by the Storm Lake dealership in March 2019 while his criminal case was still pending. He said in a court filing he was poised to become the dealership’s financial manager “because of his stellar performance.”
Iowa law prohibits people from selling vehicles for a period of five years if they are convicted of a crime that is related to vehicle sales.
The Department of Transportation decided that Adams’ guilty plea and deferred judgment in February 2020 qualifies as a conviction that bars him from selling vehicles. Adams disputes that decision, which is a primary contention of his lawsuit against the department.
Before that lawsuit was filed in December, Adams sought to have his probation terminated early so he could work as a district manager for a national life insurance company.
“I’m hopeful that working for Colonial Life Insurance would be a fresh start,” he wrote as part of that request. “For most of my life, working in car sales was my dream. But I now know that I will be happier and do better in a position where I can focus on the good aspects of my past career — working with people, customer service and sales — in an environment where I do not have to handle the risk, stress and strain of managing the finances of a business.”
Adams was a leading candidate for several high-level manager positions at large companies in west central Iowa, said Alfredo Parrish, a high-profile Des Moines attorney who has represented Adams throughout his legal troubles.
“Mr. Adams cannot get past a background check while this case is pending,” Parrish wrote in the probation termination request.
Colonial Life has a policy against hiring someone who is on probation, according to company emails that were filed in court, so Adams asked a judge to end his three-year probation after about six months.
“Many of the jobs listed by (Adams) are managerial in nature, and with a felony guilty plea to fraudulent sales practices, it is perhaps unsurprising that (Adams) is not being offered these positions,” wrote Crawford County Attorney Colin Johnson, who helped prosecute Adams and resisted the request to end his probation. “Probation is not ‘holding him back,’ as defendant claims in his motion, but rather is imposing consequences for his criminal act.”
District Judge Patrick Tott agreed with Johnson and denied the request in August, in part because Adams already received a “generous plea agreement” that kept him out prison.
“Possible fraudulent activity is a significant danger involved in the type of employment the defendant is seeking, i.e. working for an insurance company,” Tott wrote.
In the months since that decision, Adams has lobbied the state transportation department to allow him to work in auto sales, and when it refused he filed suit in December. That case is pending, and it’s unclear when it will be decided.
Parrish declined to comment for this article because the litigation is ongoing.
In court documents, Parrish wrote that Adams’ dealerships failed because of “a car accident and the loss of a long-time employee.”
Parrish did not elaborate, but Adams was significantly injured in a crash in November 2016 on U.S. Highway 30 near Vail, when his pickup truck crossed the roadway’s centerline, went into a ditch and struck a railway embankment. He was flown by a medical helicopter to an Omaha hospital, where he recovered.
Adams did not mention the crash or the long-time employee in an interview with the Times Herald in February 2020, when he blamed a downturn in the farm economy for his financial troubles and subsequent crimes.
“Anybody that knows me or worked for us knows that I gave and gave and gave, not only to the community, but to the people, until I couldn’t give anymore,” Adams said at the time. “When the farming economy turned south, we just couldn’t weather the storm, and that’s what brought this all on. That’s what brought 100 percent of this on.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed in December, another potential hurdle emerged in Adams’ quest to sell cars again: He was accused of trespassing.
Adams faces two low-level citations for trespassing in a rural area just west of Breda on Nov. 16. The incidents happened about 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., according to court records, but those records don’t contain specific details of the alleged crimes.
Carroll County Sheriff Ken Pingrey, whose office investigated the crimes, declined to provide any further information.
A trial for one of the citations is set for April. Those who are convicted typically are fined hundreds of dollars, but a conviction also could imperil Adams’ probation and deferred judgment and could lead to a prison sentence.
“There’s people that have said, ‘Boy, he sure got off easy, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ ” Adams told the Times Herald last year. “They have no idea.”