HOUSTON – In Houston, reliable transportation is not a luxury-- it’s a necessity. It’s why choosing a trustworthy repair shop is so important. KPRC 2 Investigator Amy Davis is getting results in an investigation she started five years ago.
You know the saying, “the wheels of justice turn slowly.” This case definitely proves that. But prosecutors at the Harris County District Attorney’s office say there are some steps consumers can take to protect themselves and make it easier for the DA to prosecute the mechanics if things do go wrong.
Viewer calls KPRC 2 Investigates for help
“What’s your name?” said KPRC 2 Investigator Amy Davis.
“Have a nice day,” says the man.
“No, we’re not gonna have a nice day, sir. You’ve kept this woman’s car for six weeks,” said Amy.
In 2016, Maria Gonzalez called KPRC 2 Investigates when she couldn’t get her Jeep back from a car repair shop off the Eastex Freeway and Little York.
“It’s missing,” said Maria Gonzalez. “I don’t know where it is and I don’t know who has it.”
Soon after, shop owner Anthony Vasquez and his brothers Shawn and Adrian Gee left customers’ vehicles in pieces and took off, skipping out on their rent.
More viewers contact KPRC 2 Investigates with similar stories
“I’m thinking this guy has stolen my car,” said Randy Exom.
In 2017, Randy Exom and other customers of Shawn Gee couldn’t find their vehicles when Gee was evicted from this shop.
“Nine-hundred dollars and nothing,” said James Peterson.
In 2018, James Peterson called us when he said he paid Gee to put a used engine in this Pontiac but he never got it.
“That’s theft without a gun,” said James.
Why has it been so hard to bring charges in these cases?
“On mechanics cases, it is rare that we’re able to file a charge because they’re very difficult to prove,” said Adam Brodrick, Harris County DA Consumer Fraud Prosecutor.
2021 UPDATE: Finally, prosecutor Adam Brodrick of the Harris County DA’s Consumer Fraud Division brought a theft charge that stuck.
Shawn Gee pleaded guilty to theft and has agreed to pay $6,591 restitution in exchange for his charge to drop to a misdemeanor, instead of a felony.
“I just hope he learns his lesson and will quit ripping people off,” said Peterson.
By phone, Gee told me he only plead guilty to move on and get the criminal case behind him.
Here is how to avoid car mechanic scams
Brodrick says there are a few things you can do to avoid bad mechanics.
1. Never pay in cash
First, Brodrick explains why you should never pay in cash at the repair shop.
“Cash is very hard to trace, it’s really hard to prove in court,” said Brodrick. “It’s a lot better if somebody says I paid $500, here’s the check that I paid with.”
2. Get a work order
Second, get a work order or something in writing when you drop off your vehicle. Even if it only says they’re running diagnostics to find out what may be wrong with your car.
3. Take a copy of the order with you
Third, sign the work order and make sure you take a copyright then.
“What’s happened is after they leave, the scammer will fill in five other different things to be done to that automobile. But because we have the original work order that shows only one thing was done, we can negate that,” Brodrick explains.
All of these things will protect you and make it easier for the DA to press charges if they can prove the mechanic acted with criminal intent. To do that, they usually need to get a lot of victims to prove the mechanic used the same pattern and tactics to take money for work they never intended to do.
In Gee’s case, now is the time that restitution is due. If he does not pay it, his trial date for felony theft will be set. We’ll let you know what happens.