KPRC 2 Investigates: Allegations of fraud, intimidation and violence at busy car repair shop

A months-long KPRC 2 Investigation looking into theft, threats, violence and allegations of insurance fraud, culminated in the arrest of the owner of the business; But more work needs to be done.

A months-long KPRC 2 Investigation looking into theft, threats, violence and allegations of insurance fraud, culminated in the arrest of the owner of the business; But more work needs to be done.

Harris County Collision, located at 16210 Clay Road near Highway 6, is unlike any repair shop we’ve ever investigated. We were first contacted about the businesses’ alleged bad practices by customers claiming they were victims of fraud. But public records, including 911 calls and surveillance video connected to police reports, revealed that much more was going on at the shop.

So far in 2021, there have been 58 calls to 911 from the business, an increase from the 48 calls for service the year before. Records show 67 calls to 911 were made from the shop in 2019.

Although the nature of the calls vary, at least one call obtained in a records request details a chaotic situation. That man, who did not want to be identified, called 911 from his locked car in the parking lot as auto shop workers surrounded the vehicle. About seven minutes in, the caller reports to the dispatcher that they opened the vehicle’s door.

You can hear that call here.

9-1-1 call from repair shop customer (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Customers were calling 911 about the shop and the man running it, Octavio Jonathan Castellanos.

Surveillance video obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates shows a chaotic scene at the business when deputies say Castellanos fired a semi-automatic rifle in the parking lot across Clay Road in December 2019. Castellanos was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for the shoot-out, but the charges were dismissed in a plea deal related to another case.

Repair shop customers say they were tricked

Before public records revealed a history of threats and violence at Harris County Collision, multiple customers reached out to KPRC 2 complaining of what they say is fraud.

Those former customers told KPRC 2 Investigates the same story; Someone called them acting like their insurance company after their car accident and directed them to Harris County Collision.

Travis Poston’s dealings with Harris County Collision were not violent, but they were expensive and he suspects, criminal.

“Something needs to be done. Period,” said Poston. “I absolutely think it’s a scam. I think it’s organized crime at its at its finest.”

Poston’s Kia Cadenza was rear-ended in a hit-and-run crash near his home in the Heights. He filed a police report and an insurance claim. Within days, he says he got a call from someone claiming to be with Root, his insurance company. Poston says they directed him to take his car to Harris County collision on Clay Road “to get it adjusted.”

“They already had paperwork drawn up. And I was like, okay, this must be standard protocol,” said Poston.

Crystal Walter says the same thing happened to her. She got a call from someone who told her he was with State Farm, the at-fault driver’s insurance company, about bringing her vehicle to the same shop.

Walter’s wrecked vehicle had already been towed to the nearest repair shop after the wreck, but she says the caller told her they needed to move it to a preferred collision center in order to “make the process move quicker.”

“Somehow they’re getting access to your name, your car, your insurance. They have all this information,” said Walter.

Fred Lohmann with the National Insurance Crime Bureau says he’s seen this before.

“They’re going after the money,” said Lohmann. “Repair shops tricking consumers into signing paperwork to authorize the teardown of their vehicles.”

Once the customer realizes they were tricked it’s too late.

“Now you find out that your car is in 150 pieces, they’ve already disassembled much of it, or there’s been enhanced damage to it,” said Lohmann.

It’s what Poston said happened to him. He had minor damage to his bumper from his accident when he dropped his car off at Harris County Collision. When he finally got it back, his bumper was broken into 2 pieces and none of car’s ameras or sensors were working anymore.

“This ended up being more damaged than it was originally,” said Poston.

Weeks later both Crystal and Travis say their insurance companies told them they never made those calls and Harris County Collision was demanding thousands of dollars to release their vehicles.

“We paid $4,015,” said Walters.

“First they came at me with $1900. And I said, ‘no way,’” said Poston.

KPRC 2 Investigates confronts shop worker; Owner arrested

In July, KPRC 2 Investigates went to Harris County Collision and asked about customer complaints accusing the shop of pretending to be an insurance company to get their business.

A shop worker initially claiming to be in charge, denied all of the claims in July. KPRC 2 Investigates is not identifying the person after a follow up conversation in September when he said he no longer works with Harris County Collision.

“It’s your story that no one from Harris County Collision ever called him and said bring your vehicle here?” asked Investigator Amy Davis.

“No, we would never do nothing like that,” said the former shop worker in July. “We work with insurance companies. Like we don’t work with Progressive, Geico, State Farm, Farmers. We do insurance claims, but we do not call and say we are the insurance company, to bring the car.”

Days before KPRC 2′s story aired, the company closed the Clay Road location and moved to a new spot in Katy.

Harris County Collision owner Castellanos wouldn’t return our calls to talk about the claims of fraud. When we started our investigation, he was on probation for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. While on probation Castellanos picked up charges for theft, harassment, and then aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when deputies say he beat one of his mechanics with a pistol the day he quit in May.

Court documents show when deputies went to the business on the prior criminal cases they found “several stolen vehicles” at the shop.

Castellanos had a warrant out for his arrest for three months when KPRC 2 Investigates recorded him coming and going from work driving a black truck with paper plates.

“Pretty much nothing has happened period,” said Andy Kahan with Houston Crimestoppers.

Kahan says Castellanos’ probation should have been revoked months ago. Just this week, after KPRC 2 Investigates made several calls to HCSO, U.S. Marshals arrested Castellanos.

“The question is for how long,” said Kahan.

Why no fraud charges?

Castellanos’ arrest has nothing to do with the allegations of insurance fraud. While consumers have filed police reports and civil claims Lohmann says finding local law enforcement agencies to investigate the fraud is not easy.

Lohmann says the NICB has assisted investigations where police department employees sell accident report information to runners who work for repair shops.

“That is the genesis of their ability to to perpetrate these frauds and these crimes,” Lohmann explained.

The repair shops then use the information on the police reports to call accident victims, pretending to be insurance adjustors and employees. The names, contact information and insurance information on accident reports is not public and typically only accessible to the drivers involved in the accident and their insurance companies. It is unknown how Harris County Collision obtained the information in these cases, but what is clear is that the victims calling law enforcement to report the deception were all told the same thing; Their issues were civil matters and sheriff’s deputies couldn’t get involved.

Lohmann argues law enforcement can and should get involved. It usually takes special units or investigators to invest the time to work the complicated cases.

If you think you’ve been a victim of insurance fraud, another place to report it aside from local police or sheriff is the Texas Department of Insurance Fraud Unit. They have prosecutors in the largest counties in the state to work these kinds of cases.

Have a tip for our KPRC 2 Investigates team?

We have been working on this KPRC 2 Investigation for months and spent hours undercover, checking out this repair shop and the workers there. It all began when a viewer contacted us, asking for help. You can email or call us anytime with issues you are having and we will work to get answers for you.

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.