After a three-year investigation, the state Department of Consumer Affairs announced Monday that it has found inappropriate practices at 22 Midas Auto Service Center franchises in the Central Valley and Bay Area owned by a Modesto businessman.
The agency's report claims that the shops sold unnecessary or undelivered parts and services, made false or misleading statements, and failed to follow accepted trade standards.
Modesto businessman Maurice Irving Glad, 61, owns the shops. Glad, who goes by "Mike," gained attention last year after his documentary "Recycled Life" was nominated for, but failed to win, an Oscar. Neither he, nor anyone from his company, could be reached for comment.
The department's Bureau of Automotive Repair, which conducted the undercover investigation, is seeking disciplinary action against Glad's shops, which could include revoking their business licenses.
An administrative law judge will hear Glad's response to the allegations and recommend action to Consumer Affairs. The agency's director will make the final decision on what action, if any, to take against the shops.
It's up to district attorneys to decide whether to take additional action against the individuals involved, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for Consumer Affairs.
The bureau began investigating after realizing that the complaints it had received about the Midas shops in the valley and Bay Area involved the same owner.
Over the course of three years, the bureau sent one or two cars into each of Glad's shops. All but one car came back with inflated bills, according to the 100-page report. It details 105 violations of standards and practices of the bureau's automotive repair guidelines.
One problem-free car went into the shop at 3822 McHenry Ave. for a free brake inspection and ended up with $1,847.02 worth of repairs, according to the bureau.
On average, undercover investigators paid $268.69 more than they should have, according to experts who examined the cars before and after they were taken to Glad's shops. The allegations stem from work that wasn't done or wasn't needed, the bureau said.
Agency: Painstaking to document
The bureau is accusing the franchises of selling or trying to sell unneeded goods and services at a significantly higher cost than their brake specials. It claims that the shops never intended to sell the brake services and repairs at the advertised prices, but used the promised deal to lure customers into more costly transactions.
"Nobody wants to feel as if they've been ripped off, especially during these difficult economic times," the bureau's chief, Sherry Mehl, said in a news release issued Monday. The bureau "aggressively works to find and shut down shops that are hurting both consumers and hard-working, law-abiding auto repair shops."
Asked why the investigation went on for three years, Heimerich said it can take investigators several weeks to document and examine a single car.
"We have investigators go in with a fine-tooth comb. Without that, we wouldn't be able to document that there's a widespread pattern of fraud," he said.
Those who believe they received improper treatment can report their experiences to the Department of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-952-5210.
"It would help make the case stronger for us," Heimerich said.
Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2382.