Friday, 13 March 2015 00:00

Judge Dismisses Fraud, Racketeering Case Against Warren, MI Shop Owner

A judge dismissed all the charges against a Warren body shop owner accused of defrauding customers and operating a criminal enterprise.

Maher Waad, 29, of Shelby Township, was charged with six counts of false pretenses and one count of racketeering for his actions at his business, Marks One Collision, on Eight Mile Road.

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Attorney Steve Haney, from left, Maher Waad and attorney Charles Busse embrace in a courthouse hallway minutes after all criminal charges against Waad, a Warren business owner, are dismissed by Judge James Maceroni of Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens.

MACOMB DAILY PHOTO -- JAMESON COOK

 

Judge James Maceroni said from the bench on March 9 the case never should have made it to Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens. The ruling followed a half-hour of arguments in court Monday and Maceroni’s review of legal briefs.

“It’s (the evidence) simply not there,” Maceroni said in brief comments from the bench.

“This case should have been dismissed at the preliminary examination.”

The decision brought a sense of exhilaration to Waad, who embraced his attorneys, Steve Haney and Charles Busse.

“The truth came out,” a smiling Waad said. “I believed in God that the truth would come out.”Waad said the charges, filed in fall 2013, have significantly damaged but not destroyed his multi-million dollar business, which also includes a 200-car fleet rental company.

Former judge Dean Ausilio of 37th District Court in Warren and Center was criticized by the judge, an assistant prosecutor and Haney. Ausilio had criticized both the police and prosecution side as well as the defendant but still ordered the case in December to advance to circuit court following a probable cause hearing. Ausilio left office Dec. 31 after losing the November election.

“What is most troubling is the opinion of the lower court,” Maceroni said.

“I’m so perplexed by this (Ausilio’s) decision,” Assistant Macomb Prosecutor Jean Cloud said in court among her arguments to maintain the charges.

“How can a judge say there is no evidence and yet bound it over?”In his opinion, Ausilio said he was “troubled by (the prosecution’s) reliance in making charging decisions based upon an obviously flawed, self-serving investigative report prepared for the MATS (Macomb Auto Theft Squad) unit by an insurance company ... without a full unbiased, and independent investigation.”

On the other hand, he also said he was “stunned” by Waad’s business practices.Haney, Waad’s attorney, has contended from the start of the case that it was a mere civil “billing dispute” that was unfairly made into a criminal case by police as part of a vendetta by Farmers Insurance against Waad for his federal lawsuit against Farmers.

Haney called the case “an embarrassment to the county and a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Maceoni said the prosecution failed to show that Waad had “specific knowledge” of the alleged acts.

Farmers and three other insurance carriers were accused by Waad in federal court of steering customers away from his shop for insurance work, defamation and engaging in ethnic bias that included ethnic slurs about Waad by insurance representatives.

Waad is of Arabic descent. Waad says he was called a “dirty Arab,” “sand n-----” and “crook.”

The case is pending.

“If they can convict him of being a dirty Arab and a crook, it will be a defense in the defamation suit,” Haney told Maceroni.

MATS says Waad repaired vehicles to a lesser extent than required under written estimates that were negotiated between the shop and insurance company, saving it between several hundred dollars and nearly $4,000 per vehicle. The incidents occurred from April 2012 to June 2013. In some cases, some aspects of repair work was never done, and in other instances, after-market parts were used when original manufacturer equipment was required in the estimate, according to MATS.

Haney countered that MATS has inflated the alleged over-charges and failed to give credit to Waad and Marks One for other work done or benefits to the vehicle owner to offset the shortcomings, such as a paying the customer’s deductible and/or providing a loaner vehicle. The law allows Waad’s shop the flexibility to come up with a variety of solutions, Haney said.

“It’s exactly the same thing that happens every day in this county, in this state, with insurance companies,” he said.

Maceroni said the prosecution failed to show that Waad had “specific knowledge” of the alleged acts. Haney had noted that none of the four customers who testified at the preliminary examination dealt with Waad.

Waad said that the allegations have prompted him to pay closer attention to transactions at his shop. He said he has hired more managers.

Police in April 2014 seized about 70 vehicles, more than $100,000 in cash, checks, equipment and many boxes of business documents from the collision shop, car-rental lots in Warren and Oak Park, and his home. Only the collision shop raid led to charges.

Waad spent $25,000 to get everything back, his attorneys said.

The most serious charge against Waad was racketeering, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Cloud said the prosecutor’s office appellate division will review the case for a potential appeal.

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