HOUSTON – Complaints about unfair and possibly illegal practices at Houston-area auto repair shops are one of the most common discussions from Houston consumers.
Channel 2 Investigates discovered Harris County prosecutors haven't pressed criminal charges against a single accused mechanic in more than two years, including in a case consumer expert Amy Davis uncovered in 2016 that left many drivers with no vehicles and, it seems, no recourse.
Imagine paying $900 to replace the engine on your vehicle and getting back just parts
"Opened up the hood and there was the block," said James Peterson, describing how he found his 1994 Pontiac Grand Am two and a half months after he gave it to a Houston mechanic to make repairs.
"Opened up the trunk, and there was the head and all the parts," Peterson said.
Peterson's Pontiac wasn't perfect, but it worked for him.
"A/C worked and paid for," he told Davis. "We couldn't afford a car payment."
Peterson said he found My Mobile Mechanic on Craigslist, but we found the company first in 2016.
Customers who took their vehicles to a shop off the Eastex Freeway near Little York couldn't get them back. Employees ran from Davis' questions. When the owner of the property finally evicted the brothers running the shop, he had to contact customers to come get their broken vehicles that had been left in pieces. The Harris County District Attorney's Office asked consumers to file complaints.
And many did.
"They sent us some paperwork to fill out," said customer Charles Patterson. "We sent them a bunch of stuff back, and we haven’t heard anything about it."
"Should that consumer expect a call back from your office?" Davis asked Valerie Turner, the chief of the Consumer Fraud Division at the District Attorney's Office.
"They will hear back from us one way or another," Turner.
"Two years after they filed complaints with your office and nothing," Davis said.
"I can't acknowledge whether we have an open investigation or don't," replied Turner. "I can tell you our investigations tend to take a long time. These type of auto repair scam cases are very difficult to both investigate and prosecute."
Shawn Gee runs or ran On Site Auto Repair, ER Car Clinic, A-1 Automatic Transmission and My Mobile Mechanic. The names of the businesses keep changing, but Gee and his two brothers are the mechanics behind them all.
Gee defended his business when Davis caught up with him at his home.
"Every (expletive) business is not gonna have somebody that's gonna be happy. Everybody. WalMart's not gonna have everybody happy. I'm pretty sure there's somewhere that you went that's not gonna be happy with some kind of service," Gee said.
But the pattern of complaints against Gee and his brothers is strikingly similar.
"I'm thinking this guy has stolen my car," said Randy Exom.
Exom's car was towed from another of Gee's repair shops in 2017, after Geee had been evicted again from the property. Exom said he was stuck with the tow bill and out the money he had paid Gee for repairs.
"All I know is he said if I want my money, I got to take him to court," Peterson told Davis.
Peterson said Gee collected $900 from him when he told him his Grand Am was ready, but instead of bringing his car back to him, Gee stopped answering Peterson's calls and texts for more than a month.
"He said you told him it was fixed," Davis told Gee. "I told him that it was fixed? No. When did I say it was fixed?" asked Gee.
It was June 6, according to text messages between Peterson and Gee.
Gee wrote "ready" in a text message to Peterson.
Then, on June 12, when he still hadn't delivered the car, Gee texted "please be patient." Finally, on Aug. 16, Peterson found out where Gee lived and took an Uber to his house to get answers.
"$42-$40 Uber trip up to his house, and there was my car in his driveway," Peterson said.
He was out more money for the tow to get his Grand Am back home without the new used engine he paid for.
"That's theft without a gun," Peterson said.
"These are not quick fixes, this investigation, because they happen to be paper-intensive and they tend to involve multiple victims," Turner told Davis. "They can take a long time to prosecute, and I understand that that's frustrating."
"I would say to the DA that they need to quit picking the easy cases," said Patterson.
We asked for the numbers. From January 2017 through October 2018, consumers filed 700 complaints with the Harris County District Attorney's Office Consumer Fraud Division.
About 19 percent of those complaints, or 129, resulted in prosecutions. None were against mechanics or car repair businesses.
"I know I didn't do (expletive) wrong," Gee said. "I didn't. I did everything by the book."
Unfortunately, there is no book when it comes to car repair. There are no regulations or specific laws governing the businesses. That is why you should get everything in writing before you leave your vehicle at a shop: what parts and services you're getting and when. You may need that paper trail down the road.
If you need to file a complaint with the District Attorney's Office Consumer Fraud Division, call 713-274-5555.