Monica Yant Kinney: Car salesman hopes to gain mileage from breaks
Randy Carpenter took one of his best employees, Fred Burkeholder, to a Phillies game the other day. Carpenter is general manager of the DeSimone Suzuki dealership in Frankford. Burkeholder, 24, was making a name for himself as a car salesman until his recent arrest on charges of robbery and attempted murder.
Randy Carpenter took one of his best employees, Fred Burkeholder, to a Phillies game the other day.
Carpenter is general manager of the DeSimone Suzuki dealership in Frankford. Burkeholder, 24, was making a name for himself as a car salesman until his recent arrest on charges of robbery and attempted murder.
In normal times, you'd expect an employer to immediately fire a worker accused of a crime, especially a violent offense.
In the worst economy since the Depression, DeSimone not only helped Burkeholder make bail, the car dealer also brought him back even before the case was resolved.
"When people are arrested, they are presumed guilty," Carpenter acknowledged in an interview in his office. "And a car dealership is always fighting image issues.
"But we stood by our employee. If more employers did that, we'd all be better for it. We owe them for giving good service. We owe them at least the benefit of the doubt."
Carpenter was a 20-year auto-industry veteran when he met Burkeholder, an up-and-comer eager to learn and earn for his 4-year-old daughter, Ay'Shanae.
"In order to be a good salesman," Carpenter told him, "you've got to be able to take rejection."
Rejection, Burkeholder knows well. Twice convicted of drug offenses, he'd mention his record and doors would slam.
"My past holds me back."
A second chance
In 2005, Gary Barbera gave a break to the young man, who took a course on auto sales and personally lobbied a state review board after initially being denied a sales license.
"He was a good salesman and a great kid," Barbera's office manager, Jane Burke, recalled.
Last year, Barbera closed its Roxborough location, so Burkeholder worked nights at McDonald's until he landed at DeSimone.
A decent car salesman can earn $40,000 a year, a great one up to $150,000. It's a grueling, all-commission gig that suits Burkeholder's quest for reinvention.
"Fred always puts the customer first, the sale second," Carpenter told me. "He has a fantastic attitude. He always said, 'I never, ever want to go back to jail.' "
Two victims told police they were waiting for a bus in the 500 block of East Wyoming Street just before 5 a.m. May 7 when they were robbed by three males, one of whom fired a gun and missed. Police stormed Burkeholder's Olney home several days later as he was getting ready for work.
The arrest affidavit stated that the victims identified the shooter, but did not say whether by name or by the dated police mug shot of a teenage Burkeholder in braids.
"I told the officer, 'I hope that's not the picture you're using, because I haven't looked like that in years,' " Burkeholder recalled.
Burkeholder was handcuffed, fingerprinted, and sent to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. Every day, he or his stepfather called Carpenter to keep him in the loop.
"I was making $1,000 or more after taxes a week," Burkeholder reminded his boss. "I had no reason to rob anyone."
"If I thought he did it, I would let him rot," his stepfather, Simon White, added. "But I knew they had the wrong man."
Carpenter has a relative who'd made a new life for himself after youthful transgressions. He was touched by Burkeholder's resolve and vowed to hold his position.
"Why," Carpenter asked, "would I want to add to this young man's problems? If he had lost his job on top of being charged with a crime, who knows what direction his life would have taken?"
Burkeholder made bail three weeks later and immediately returned to work. I met him in court on his day off last Wednesday.
Witnesses had twice failed to show up for previous preliminary hearings. Generally, if prosecutors cannot proceed to trial after three tries, the charges are dropped.
This time, both the witnesses and Burkeholder's public defender were no-shows. Seconds later, the case was dismissed.
"I never got to prove my innocence," Burkeholder said, "but at least it's over."
On Saturday, Burkeholder sold a 2009 Suzuki SX4 for $20,000, earning a $625 commission. Sunday, he went to the ball game with his boss.
On Monday, when I stopped by the dealership, Burkeholder wore black wing tips, suspenders, and a hungry smile. Hours later, in the oppressive heat, he sold a 2003 Pontiac and made another $625.
He will always have a criminal past, but thanks to DeSimone, the past won't always define him.