HOUSTON - “Have a great day,” was all employees at a car repair shop on the Eastex Freeway near Little York would say to consumer expert Amy Davis when she stopped by to help a consumer get her car back.
“No, I'm not gonna have a nice day, sir, because you kept this person's vehicle for weeks,” Davis replied.
It's hard to have a nice day when you've got no car and you need to get to work.
“It's missing,” Maria Gonzalez told Davis, referring to her 2005 Jeep Liberty that she dropped off at the shop on May 14. “I don't know where it is and I don't know who has it.”
Gonzalez called Davis when she couldn’t get her vehicle or any answers after six weeks.
“I just wanted to get it painted,” she said.
The man at the car repair shop told her it would take a couple days to paint her hood and front fenders, but when he stopped returning Gonzalez’s calls, she stopped in to get her SUV. Painted or unpainted, she wanted it back.
“I show up to the shop on Saturday. He's not there. My car's nowhere to be found,” Gonzalez explained.
Gonzalez's EZ TAG account revealed someone drove her jeep over the Ship Channel Bridge, some 16 miles from the shop. Even though she already paid the $400 owner Anthony Vasquez said she owed, when Gonzalez’s boyfriend called to try and work things out, Vasquez raised the price.
“A thousand ***king dollars,” Vasquez said, telling her boyfriend he needed to bring that amount to get the car back.
“A thousand dollars? For what?” Gonzalez’s boyfriend asked.
“Because I want to charge you that for service that I gave you. I can ***king do that, bro,” Vasquez said smugly.
When Davis heard that, she outfitted Gonzalez with a hidden camera and sent her back to ask about her vehicle. This time her Jeep Liberty was parked right out front without a lick of new paint anywhere on it.
“He said they were almost done, but it looks like they haven't even started,” Gonzalez told a man inside who said his name was Adrian.
“It'll be done by this weekend. I guarantee it,” Adrian told her, trying to persuade her to leave her vehicle at the shop longer.
While Gonzalez was inside demanding her vehicle back, we watched two men come out to her Jeep, giving it a lot of attention, looking under floor mats and taking out bags of stuff.
“What are you doing to that vehicle?” Davis asked the men. “I'm just cleaning it out, ma'am,” answered one of them.
They left behind a garbage bag filled with items they had removed from Gonzalez’s car: flip-flops, water, dirty blankets and a potted plant, among other things.
Gonzalez didn’t get her $400 back, but she did leave with her vehicle that had 500 more miles on it than when she dropped it off.
“Clearly, my car was never worked on,” she told Davis. “My car smells like weed. And there is dog hair everywhere. I don't have a dog.”
We do know police have arrested owner Anthony Vasquez eight times for possession of marijuana.
His brothers, Shawn Gee and Adrian Gee, who work with him at the shop, also have criminal records dating back to the early '90s. And even though Harris County deputies have been called to the shop 71 times since May 2015, mostly by frustrated customers, cops say there isn't anything they can do to Vasquez.
“There really isn't,” agreed Susan Burdick, of the Houston Better Business Bureau. “Unfortunately, we don't really have anything that "so-called" regulates that industry. So it is on the consumer to really do their homework.”
Two weeks after Davis’ encounter at the shop, Vasquez found himself locked out, evicted from the shop by landlord Mike Fendley.
“This is terrible, what they've done to people's vehicles and their possessions,” Fendley told Davis.
Fendley said he let Vasquez back inside twice in hopes he would return all of the vehicles inside to their rightful owners.
“The last time I let them back in without any money, they actually brought in two more vehicles,” he explained.
Now, Fendley is left trying to reunite the cars, some still in pieces, with their owners.
If you have ever had any dealings with Vasquez or his repair shop, or if he owes you money or a vehicle, the Harris County district attorney's office wants to hear from you. Call Assistant District Attorney Adam Brodrick in the Consumer Fraud Division at 713-274-5555.