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Man Sentenced for Scam at Auto-Repair Business

Courts: Operator of Van Nuys shop gets fine and jail time for defrauding clients.

October 23, 1998|MICHAEL BAKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VAN NUYS — A Canyon Country man whose family is no stranger to auto-repair fraud allegations was sentenced Thursday to 60 days in jail and fined $3,777 for swindling clients at his transmission-repair business.

Donald Robert Wachter, who operates Mr. Don's Transmission at 7310 Van Nuys Blvd., was sentenced in Los Angeles Municipal Court for grand theft. He was convicted Oct. 5 after a jury trial.

"It's really excellent on the part of the judge to recognize the threat of auto-repair fraud," said Deputy City Atty. Mark Lambert, who handled the case. "Often white-collar crimes don't get jail time."

Wachter's attorney, Kim Pearman, immediately filed an appeal, saying that the allegations against his client are more than a year old and that many witnesses could not be found or could not remember what had happened.

"You wait around for 13 months to bring the charges on the guy and then you drop the bomb; it just doesn't make sense," Pearman said.

Wachter was investigated by the Bureau of Automotive Repair after the agency received complaints from two customers, Lambert said.

A Calabasas woman told authorities that Wachter performed unauthorized transmission work on her car and then demanded $3,000 before he would release it. A Reseda man said that Wachter charged him more than $1,000 for a totally rebuilt transmission, when in fact the transmission was used, not rebuilt, Lambert said.

Wachter's $3,777 fine will be used to make restitution to the victims and to cover court costs.

Pearman said the city attorney is being vindictive toward his client, who had worked on transmissions for 13 years without receiving any previous complaints.

Wachter's brother, Robert, who operated ATCO Transmission in North Hollywood, was convicted in 1996 of a similar scam. He was ordered to pay $1,080 in fines and costs and placed on probation after pleading no contest to making false and misleading statements. Officials said that last year he was caught running another swindle at the same shop and sentenced to pay $2,700.

The Wachters' father, Paul, who owned Dr. Transmission in North Hollywood, was also charged in an alleged auto repair scam, in 1995. Paul Wachter died before he could be tried, Lambert said.

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