Residents, mostly teens, from the Merrimack Valley and Greater Newburyport areas, comprise the 1,500 students who paid more than $1 million to a driving school that abruptly shut down after its owner was charged with trafficking methamphetamines, authorities said.
Attorney General Maura Healey filed a civil lawsuit late last week against North Andover Auto School, also doing business at MV Auto School, and its owner Michael Larocque, 56, of Lawrence. The lawsuit seeks refunds for the students and penalties after the schools and Larocque didn’t deliver services, according to a statement from Healey.
In September, Larocque was charged with trafficking methamphetamines and was recently indicted by the Essex County grand jury on additional narcotics charges.
After his arrest, the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles revoked the school’s license as well as Larocque’s license to teach driver’s education.
North Andover Auto School operated RMV-licensed driving schools in North Andover and Haverhill, at North Andover High School and also as Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover, according to Healey.
“The schools provided instruction to primarily teenaged students throughout the North Shore, including those from: North Andover, Andover, Methuen, Haverhill, Lawrence, Merrimac, Amesbury, Salisbury, Newburyport, West Newbury, Georgetown, Groveland and Boxford,” according to information released by Healey’s office.
Students paid between $550 to $750 for full driver’s education courses, Healey said.
“Some of these students had yet to start their course at all, some had completed some or all of the classroom portion of the course and some had completed some of the on-road instruction portion of the course,” according to Healey.
Larocque’s arrest and the abrupt closure of the schools that followed left many students on the hook, unable to pay for another driving school, Healey said.
Also, the lawsuit alleges that even before the RMV pulled the licenses, the auto school “was operating in an unfair and/or deceptive manner because the business misrepresented its ability to provide classroom and driving hours to consumers when it reopened after the COVID-related closure in the spring of 2020,” according to Healey.
Since his release on bail in February, Larocque “not only continued to fail to responsibly wind up the business,” he also misappropriated school assets by transferring three of the school’s cars into his name, according to Healey.
Healey said her office started a civil investigation into “potential consumer protection violations” after receiving complaints and being contacted by the RMV.
Colleen Ogilvie, the acting RMV registrar, said she appreciates the collaboration with Healey’s office to deliver “additional support for the students and families who have been impacted by this unfortunate situation.”
Healey’s office is seeking a preliminary injunction next week in court to freeze any assets for consumer restitution. She stressed her office is seeking more than $1 million in “full refunds for impacted customers.”
Larocque was originally charged Sept. 21 with two counts of trafficking methamphetamines over 200 grams after a lengthy investigation involving local, state and federal authorities.
He was recently indicted by the Essex County grand jury on the two counts of trafficking methamphetamines over 200 grams. He was additionally charged with one count of illegal possession of a class D substance, one count of trafficking 36 to 100 grams of methamphetamine and one count of illegal possession of a class A substance, according to information provided by Healey’s office.
Investigators seized the drugs after executing search warrants at Larocque’s 69 Colonial Road home in Lawrence and the North Andover Auto School at 203 Turnpike St., unit 404, in North Andover, according to reports.
At the time of his arrest, detectives said they had made “controlled purchases” of methamphetamines from Larocque’s Lawrence home and the school.
Larocque faces arraignment early next month in Salem Superior Court, where the penalties he faces if convicted will be more severe than at the district court level.
Defense attorney Scott Gleason has represented Larocque in his criminal case. Gleason could not be reached for comment for this article.
Healey said any consumer affected by these practices who has not heard from the RMV can call the AG’s consumer hotline at 617-727-8400.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.