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LAS VEGAS -- A judge will soon decide whether one man is accountable for more than 250 consumer complaints against Purrfect Auto service. An investigation that lead to a civil lawsuit is now in its final chapter.
The man at the center of this case is Shafik Hirji. Officially, he's a consultant for Purrfect Auto, but prosecutors insist he's no hired hand, he is the company. They accuse Hirji as the alleged mastermind of a scheme to rip off consumers at Purrfect Auto locations valley-wide.
In 2006, when investigators with the Nevada Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection conducted an undercover sting of four Purrfect Auto locations.
The I-Team's hidden cameras captured employees at the following shop locations: Rancho and Cheyenne, Eastern and St. Rose Parkway, Sunset and Eastern, and Decatur and Tropicana charging for services they didn't perform.
Vartan Arslanian is the former owner of the Decatur store.
"Did you talk to Hirji about the undercover operation?" questions Deputy Attorney General Jeff Segal. "Yeah." replies Arslanian. "He said they do this to every, this kind of operation, even Sears have these problems."
In exchange for his testimony against Shafik Hirji, the man Arslanian claims actually operated his franchise, the state released Arslanian from its lawsuit accusing him and other franchisees of consumer fraud.
In addition to those stores targeted by the sting, prosecutors allege Hirji controlled seven other Purrfect Auto locations using straw owners like Christine Mardirossian to conceal his involvement with the company.
Deputy Attorney General Jeff Segal: "There were other stores, approximately four or five that had your name on them. Is that correct?"
Christine Mardirossian: "Yes."
Segal: "And you don't even know what stores those are?"
Mardirossian: "No, I do not."
Segal: "Did you go to any of those stores?"
According to the complaint, Hirji's name does not appear on any of the franchise agreements. Hirji's long time accountant Ed Ewing explained his client's need for anonymity.
"It was my understanding that there was a situation in California that he was on probation for that prevented him from doing that," said Ewing.
"So it was something he told you he did purposefully?" questioned Deputy Attorney General Adriana Escobar. "Yes," said Ewing.
California court records reveal in 2001 that Hirji pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud and was sentenced to three years probation. But Hirji's attorney insists It's Ewing's own criminal activity -- a recent indictment along with Hirji for mortgage fraud -- that prompted his testimony.
"You're charged with five felony counts in the state of Nevada is that correct?" said Malcolm Lavergne, Hirji's attorney.
"I think that's correct I don't have the document in front of me. And I think there was previous testimony that just a few hours ago you brokered a deal is that correct? "Yes," said Ewing.
Like Ewing, Hirji's attorney points out, several other state witnesses leveraged their testimony and that not one of them accuses his client of directing them to defraud customers.
"Three for three said he never asked me to rip off consumers. Never asked it," said Lavergne.
But prosecutors encouraged the court to use common sense to connect the fraud to Hirji. "This can't be the case of one bad franchise owner, it can't be a case of one bad manager or one bad mechanic because the same thing happened at four different locations and there wasn't one case where they did what they were supposed to do for the money," said Segal.
The state has asked the judge to permanently ban Hirji from the auto repair business in Nevada and to pay more than half a million dollars in restitution and civil penalties. The judge is taking some time to consider the case and we expect a ruling soon.