Updated: January 7, 2014 at 9:37 am
The owner of a defunct Colorado Springs auto garage was sentenced Monday after pleading guilty last year to bilking customers.
Greg Ehnes, owner of the shuttered Springs Transmission and Automotive, must serve 90 days in jail and 10 years on intensive probation, 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas Kane ruled.
Ehnes, who was taken into custody Monday, pleaded guilty in October to theft from an at-risk victim and criminal mischief after customers complained that he failed to perform automotive work for which he was paid, sold customers' vehicle parts for scrap, and held cars hostage in his garage while demanding excessive fees for repair work.
He agreed to close the shop in November 2012, after legal action by the Colorado Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit. The agency's lawsuit went uncontested by Ehnes and resulted in a $300,000 judgment against him.
It's hardly the end of Ehnes' financial obligations, however.
At a restitution hearing scheduled for May 2, prosecutors intend to ask a judge to direct Ehnes to pay back an additional $50,000 to $100,000 to the 32 customers who said they were cheated as part of the criminal case.
The Attorney General's settlement, meanwhile, is to be paid to customers who lost money to Ehnes but weren't part of the criminal case.
Prosecutor Robyn Cafasso said Ehnes will be under a variety of restrictions during the course of his 10-year probation: He will be unable to sign contracts, make large purchases or open any new bank accounts without prior approval.
"The whole point is to make restitution the priority," said Cafasso.
Ehnes' attorney, Jennifer Stock, said Ehnes has been looking for work to help pay for his crimes - with little success.
"He's been looking for work all along, and he's had a very difficult time in Colorado Springs and Pueblo because of the media exposure," she said.
Cafasso said Ehnes preyed on those strapped for cash - luring them in with promises of offering a payment plan for automotive work, then squeezing them for additional fees while holding onto their vehicles, in some cases for months at a time.
She urged people to research auto garages before having work done, including checking the Better Business Bureau for complaints from other customers.
In his advertisements, Ehnes claimed he had an A+ rating from the BBB, Cafasso said. In fact, he had an F.
"If you can, get a reference from somebody you trust."