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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Smog-Test Mechanic Pleads No Contest

March 14, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

A smog-check mechanic has pleaded no contest to a charge that he produced fake smog certificates for dirty or untested cars by hooking up "clean" cars to the exhaust measuring device.

Max Banuelos, 23, an employee of Mad's Auto Repair at 809 W. Florence Ave., pleaded no contest to one count of computer fraud in Los Angeles Municipal Court on March 5 and faces a maximum of three years in prison. He will be sentenced May 21.

By entering the no-contest plea, Banuelos became the first defendant to face sentencing among dozens arrested in December in a major state crackdown on sales of fraudulent certificates.

Prosecutors said they will probably recommend that Banuelos be sentenced to at least 30 days in jail and probation. If he had been convicted of the 11 counts of perjury and computer fraud filed against him, he would have faced up to six years in prison.

Mad's Auto Repair co-owner Miguel Angel Vaca, 23, and another smog-check mechanic, Ulises Salcido Ortiz, 49, are also charged with 11 counts of perjury and computer fraud. Vaca, a Monterey Park resident, is slated for an April 12 preliminary hearing; Ortiz, a Bell resident, is still at large, according to prosecutors.

During a Sept. 17 surveillance of Mad's Auto Repair, state investigators watched Banuelos, Vaca and Ortiz allegedly hook up Vaca's Toyota truck, a low-emission vehicle, to the smog machine's exhaust probe but enter identification data for at least 10 different cars.

Prosecutors allege that the switch was the standard procedure used by roughly 40 auto-repair shop operators and mechanics in Los Angeles County who were arrested in December in the biggest crackdown on phony certificates since the state's smog-check program began in 1984.

Officials from the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the California Air Resources Board targeted 23 smog-check stations in the sweep. Six South-Central stations, including Mad's, were charged with felony fraud.

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