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Troubled Springs auto shop shut down by police

By: MARIA ST.LOUIS-SANCHEZ
September 5, 2012
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A Colorado Springs auto shop closed Wednesday by police has a history of ripping off customers, ignoring complaints and violating federal workplace rules and regulations, according to documents and officials.

Colorado Springs police surrounded Springs Transmission and Automotive, 3310 Chelton Loop North, and the financial crimes unit executed three search warrants Wednesday that were issued after lengthy investigation, according to a police spokeswoman.

Police say that their investigation revealed at least 22 victims, many of them elderly. Their complaints include:

• Money charged for repairs not completed;

• Vehicles not released to owners after work was not started, or charging owners to have their vehicle returned;

• Charges for unauthorized and unnecessary repairs;

• Personal use of customer vehicles by employees;

• Repairs made with defective or low-grade parts while the owner was charged for higher priced parts.

A public records check of the business shows a history of bad business practices. The business and its owner Gregory Ehnes have been sued 10 times by various creditors since March, have racked up almost 40 complaints to the Better Business Bureau and have been fined nearly $80,000 by federal regulators.

“We know about them, they are on our radar screen,” said Katie Carrol, director of communications and media relations for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado. “Given that we have more than four million companies in our database, that means something.”

Blair Reeves, chief operations officer for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, said the organization worked with police on the case and provided whatever information it has to help with the investigation.

She did not know about the warrants, she said Wednesday. She thought the investigation was related to the history of business practices, rather than a single case.

In the 10 cases filed since March, judgments against Ehnes or the company have totaled more than $26,000, a Gazette analysis of court records show.

Reeves said the Better Business Bureau has received 37 complaints against the business in the past 36 months and the business had not responded to any of them – giving the company an “F” rating from the organization. The business also has a history of using the BBB logo to make people think it is a member, which they aren’t, she said. That history puts Springs Automotive and Transmission on the top 25 list of worst business offenders in the southern Colorado region, she said.

In 2011, the company willfully violated federal workplace safety standards, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent out a news release publicly shaming the company and announcing proposed fines totaling $76,000.

“This employer has been cited for many of these conditions before and has failed to take any meaningful action,” John Healy, OSHA’s director in Englewood, said in a June 2011 release. “OSHA will not tolerate such negligence.”

Some of the safety violations included improper electrical systems, chemical handling, improper fire control during welding and inadequate protective equipment.

Reeves said the Better Business Bureau has tried to let people know about the business practices for years. The organization doesn’t have the authority to launch a criminal investigation but tries to warn consumers.

“In cases like these, we provide consumers with information so they can make their own judgments,” she said.

The police investigation closed the business for much of the day Wednesday. Police said the business was released to Ehnes when they left; it is unknown if it will reopen.

Police believe that there may be more than 50 victims of the businesses practices and encourage anyone who feels that they may have been a victim to contact police at 444-7000.

Contact Maria St. Louis-Sanchez: 636-0274

Twitter @mariastlouis

Facebook Gazette Maria St. Louis-Sanchez

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