An Athens man who owns a Decatur automotive repair shop has been arrested for charging a 75-year-old woman more than $10,000 for bogus repairs and duplicate billings, records show.
However, the mechanic — Billy Wayne Hood, 52, of 21404 Looney Road, owner of Billy’s Liberty 2000 garage in Decatur — told The News Courier Tuesday the customer authorized the work, he performed it, and she told him he did a good job, though he did admit he accidentally duplicated a charge.
Hood was charged Nov. 4 with first-degree financial exploitation of an elderly person. He is accused of charging for work never performed and duplicating charges for work on Bernice Bagwell’s 1953 Plymouth. He was released from the Morgan County Jail after posting a $5,000 property bond, records show.
Decatur Police Sgt. John Harris investigated the case and filed a detailed affidavit showing probable cause why an arrest warrant should be granted. According to that document, a master mechanic at a Madison shop who was asked to look at Bagwell’s car after her brother became suspicious about the repairs said it was the “worst case of fraud” he had seen in his 35 years in business.
In addition, some of Hood’s former employees told Harris that Hood had engaged in “fraudulent business practices for years but intimidated people into not filing reports,” according to Harris’ affidavit. The document did not detail how Hood allegedly intimidated unhappy customers into not filing reports.
Harris offered the following probable cause in order to obtain the arrest warrant:
On Oct. 7, Bagwell and her brother, Jerry Jacobs, came to Decatur Police Department to file a theft report. They met with Officer Danny Pepper and explained that in August, Bagwell had taken her car to Hood’s shop to have some work done. Bagwell said she told Hood she wanted to get the car in “show car” condition, according to Harris’ detailed affidavit.
Over the course of a month — between Aug. 29 and Oct. 1 — Hood kept the vehicle at his shop and billed Bagwell more than $10,000 for repairs. Bagwell paid Hood in three separate checks over the month. However, when she picked up her car on Oct. 1, the vehicle did not seem any different than when she dropped it off.
Bagwell asked her brother to look over the vehicle and compare it to the work for which she had been billed. Jacobs immediately noticed Hood had billed his sister multiple times for the same repairs, according to Harris’ affidavit. Jacobs then looked over the vehicle and determined most of the items for which his sister had been billed had never been done.
Master mechanic differs
Jacobs then took his sister’s car to Madison Automotive and had master mechanic Steve Ezell determine what work had been performed compared to what had been billed. Master mechanic status is achieved by becoming certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
After going over every item on the invoices, Ezell said that in his 35 years in the business, this was the “worst case of fraud” he had ever seen. Ezell then showed Jacobs every item on the invoice — what work was supposed to have been done and how it was not, according to Harris’ affidavit. Ezell told Jacobs that at most, Hood had performed about $400 worth of work to the vehicle. Ezell later provided an itemized list of the fraudulent charges.
Harris was then assigned to the case and, after speaking with Jacobs and Bagwell, he had Jacobs take the vehicle back to Madison Automotive so he could meet with Ezell. Ezell put the vehicle on the rack and showed Harris every repair for which Hood had billed Bagwell.
According to Harris, Hood billed Bagwell $2,388 in duplicate charges, $763.50 in charges for work never performed, and more than $2,000 in misleading charges.
Ezell told Harris he had never met Bagwell or Jacobs before they brought in the Plymouth and he was not being paid to look over the vehicle, Harris wrote in the affidavit. Over the course of the next three weeks, Harris interviewed several customers who claimed Hood had defrauded them. Harris also spoke to former employees who said Hood has been engaged in “fraudulent business practices for years but he had intimidated people into not filing reports.”
Civil or criminal case?
Hood, who has been in business since 2006, told The News Courier he has been upset about Bagwell’s allegation since it happened.
“I’ve been in business 16 years and I didn’t get here by ripping people off,” he said.
Hood said he first learned the repairs to Bagwell’s car were an issue when he was arrested; Bagwell never came to him to complain. He said she authorized the purchase of each part before it was ordered, looked at all the parts that were to be installed and approved the work and, the day after the work was done, told Hood, he “did a good job.”
Hood said the car was towed into the shop, not driven, because it had no brakes and none of the gauges worked.
“It looked good on the outside but it had a lot of issues,” he said. He said the Madison mechanic who looked at the car could not have seen all of the repairs simply by putting the car up on a rack. He said, luckily, he saved 95 percent of the old parts in a scrap pile at the business. He said the car would have had to be torn down to see them. Although the investigator on the case left a telephone message, Hood said he never came to the shop to interview him about the matter. He said the disagreement should be a civil matter, not a criminal case.
In May 2013, Alabama lawmakers created the crimes of elder abuse and neglect in the first, second, and third degree as well as the crimes of financial exploitation of an elderly person in the first, second and third degree.
The new law classifies first-degree financial exploitation of an elderly person as the financial exploitation of a person age 60 or older in which the value of the property taken exceeds $2,500. It is a Class B felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison.