Houston resident Ricardo Gonzalez, 41, was identified as the owner of USA Collision located at 3549 Almeda-Genoa Rd., an auto body shop and a tow truck company that provides services to stranded motorists via a City of Houston contract.
Gonzalez was arrested along with the shop manager, Houston-resident Andres Vasquez, 31, and two other employees: Manvel-resident Ruben Barhona Rendon, 27, and 34 year-old Brenda Reyes Awawdeh of Pasadena.
According to court records, Gonzalez and his crew ran a tow truck businesses that held a contract with the City of Houston which designated the company as official Safe Clear providers. City law specifies that when a driver is in an accident and police call a Safe Clear wrecker, the wrecker can only charge the driver $155.50. However, drivers can be asked to sign documents to approve additional services and then city rules then no longer apply.
Detectives say once a car was towed by USA Auto Collision, many customers reportedly told police they were tricked into signing documents giving the body shop permission to perform unnecessary repairs. Customers also complained of being forced to pay huge repair bills or being charged more than $200 for “transfer fees” to move their vehicle between the storage lot and the repair shop, which were within a few feet of each other.
Some customers also complained that when they went to the tow truck company to pick up their car, they were unable to use their cell phones to make calls or contact their insurance company. And in fact, detectives reported finding a device that blocks cell phone signals during a search of the business.
USA Auto Collision is the operation’s towing company which was awarded the City of Houston’s Safe-Clear contract.
Detectives say Gonzalez operates two other companies on the same lot on Almeda Road. Stan's Wreckers is a storage lot where the vehicles are towed and he operates an auto body shop on the same property.
On May 5, search and arrest warrants were executed at the auto body shop and all four suspects were arrested and taken to the Harris County Jail. Gonzalez was later released on a $30,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment hearing on May 23.
According to court records, Gonzalez has several prior convictions for fraud. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and he was convicted of felony theft in 2008.
Awawdah was released on a $10,000 bond and will return to court on May 2.
Rendon remains in jail on $15,000 bond and Vasquez remains in custody on a $30,000 bond.
Investigators believe numerous drivers may have fallen victim to the fraud scheme. Anyone who has additional information in these cases or who may be a victim is urged to contact the HPD Auto Dealers Detail at 832-394-4800 or 832-394-4969 (after-hours) or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to The Journal for permission to reprint this story.