After completing his military service in the Vietnam War, W. Rodman Ryan began selling motorcycles and used cars out of a small garage in Edison. That business grew into the Open Road Auto Group, which operates fifteen upscale automobile dealerships across the state.
The 76-year-old Ryan has been lauded for his philanthropy and courted by politicians seeking his financial support — he’s contributed nearly $150,000 to candidates from both parties – but a settlement between his company and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office last week potentially taints his standing as a pillar of the community.
Open Road Auto Group agreed to pay $300,000 to settle allegations that they violated consumer protection laws during the coronavirus pandemic by failing to disclose prior accident history and honor warranties on used vehicles, and deceptive advertising. Supply chain issues related to COVID-19 resulted in a severe shortage of cars and trucks.
“Dodging illegal practices should be the last thing New Jerseyans have to worry about as they search for a vehicle in this challenging market,” Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said. “These settlements demonstrate our commitment to protect consumers and ensure transparency in the state’s auto market.”
The president of Open Road Auto Group, Michael Morais – he is also Ryan’s son-in-law – sharply criticized the attorney general’s office for going public with the allegations.
“I’d love to defend my 1,500 men and women. This was not okay,” Morais said. “This whole thing was wrong. It was horrendous. Every communication was supposed to be confidential.”
But Ryan signed a document that states that the settlement agreement “is a public document subject to the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Law.
Still, the matter leaves Ryan looking like a sleazy car dealer who took advantage of customers during a pandemic. That could reflect badly on those he has contributed to.
He has contributed $3,000 to Republican Tom Kean, Jr.’s campaign for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district. He sent $7,600 to Kean in 2020.
Ryan also gave $10,000 to the Leadership Matters for America PAC, which was part of Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. He sent $3,400 to Christie’s 2009 gubernatorial bid and $3,800 to his re-election campaign. Inexplicably, Ryan also gave $1,000 to Barbara Buono’s bid to unseat Christie.
Democrats have also been the recipients of Ryan’ donations: he’s sent money to Linda Stender and John Adler, and to Democrats in Middlesex County. He backed Jack Ciattarelli for governor with a checks totaling $8,400 but has also written checks to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee.
He has also made major contributions to charitable groups, including Morristown Medical Center and the Somerset Hills YMCA.