I-Team: Purrfect Auto Case Still Waiting for Trial - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Colleen McCarty and Photojournalist Kyle Zuelke

I-Team: Purrfect Auto Case Still Waiting for Trial

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LAS VEGAS -- An undercover sting at an auto repair franchise put dishonest mechanics on notice.

Any car, any complaint and any customer could be a decoy for the Nevada Attorney General. The I-Team rode shotgun in 2006 when the AG's investigation of Purrfect Auto prompted legal action, but now, years later, there's been no resolution.

In November of 2006, hidden cameras captured employees at four Purrfect Auto locations charging for parts they didn't install or repairs they didn't perform.

A car outfitted with hidden cameras and marked parts exposes mechanics at each location failing to finish, or in some cases even to start, the requested repairs.

"I find it very disappointing that we went to four places and we have four places allegedly not perform the work that we engaged them to do," said Senior Deputy Attorney General Ernest Figueroa.

The investigation by the AG's Bureau of Consumer Protection led to a lawsuit. First against the four locations caught on tape and then later to include seven additional franchisees accused as co-conspirators in a scheme to rip-off customers.

"The evidence is clear to us from the sheer volume of complaints and from the evidence collected so far that this is anything but an anomaly -- that these actions by these locations is a concerted effort to defraud the public," said then-Senior Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Delaney.

Delaney sought to shut down the franchises. But the litigation outlasted her tenure with the office.

Today, consumer advocate Eric Witkoski oversees the case.

"We've got two attorneys working on it and that's about as many resources as I can put on it. With the budget crisis we have, we're spread really thin but we're doing what we can," he said.

Early last week the AG's attorneys asked the court to postpone the trial for the fourth time. Witkoski explains his office needs more time to address the complexities of the case, like the fact that most of the defendants no longer own Purrfect Auto franchises and currently do not have legal representation.

Attorney Cory Hilton continues to represent the man accused as the mastermind of the scheme, Shafik Hirji. Though Hirji's name did not appear as an owner or officer in any Purrfect Auto franchise in 2006, the AG alleges Hirji controls the business.

According to the complaint, Hirji perpetuates an operational model that requires employees to upsell. In most, if not all cases, says the AG, customers pay for so-called phantom services -- repairs that simply aren't performed.

"If employees are actually participating in this, if they're receiving some sort of enumeration for attempting to deceive the public, you would want to see evidence of that from top to bottom. There's been no evidence of that produced and that is a very critical flaw in the Attorney General's case," said Hilton.

Hilton insists the undercover sting reveals only isolated incidents, not a calculated effort. Yet the AG's complaint offers evidence to the contrary, some 200 alleged victims, waiting for their day in court.

Even though three years have passed, the I-Teami still hears complaints from viewers regularly about Purrfect Auto.

Even though most of the franchises named in the lawsuit have new owners, eight of the 11 locations currently have an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, primarily for failing to respond to complaints.

A trial date has been set this fall.

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