The Utah Division of Consumer Protection has ordered a tire and auto repair shop in southern Utah’s New Harmony to pay another $10,000 for failing to tell customers the full cost of repairs.
It’s the second time the company, known as Freeway Tire, has been cited by Utah regulators. The latest finding and fine, both issued last week, could have a ripple effect on other legal actions against the company.
When the division ordered Freeway Tire to pay a $15,000 fine in the first case, it suspended $7,500 on the condition Michael Heath and his business follow all the state’s consumer protection laws and rules for three years. The division has since asked the full $15,000 fine be imposed. Heath has appealed that case to a state court judge. That appeal is pending.
Heath is also being sued in federal court over his business practices and the sale of a gas and service station in Wells, Nev. That lawsuit alleges Heath made misrepresentations when he sold the business to its current owner, that he has a history of defrauding customers and those practices amount to racketeering. The new fine Utah seeks to impose is likely to be evidence in the federal lawsuit.
Heath’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit. The motion says the buyer agreed to purchase the property “as is” and that the allegations do not amount to fraud.
An attorney representing Heath did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.
Freeway Tire once operated beside a Texaco station that Heath also owned at the Interstate 15 exit in New Harmony. Last year, the gas station began operating under the Shell banner.
On March 22 of this year, an administrative law judge issued a ruling finding that Freeway Tire failed to get proper authorizations for repairs or did not provide cost estimates to a motorist from New Jersey who was on a cross-country trip and a Wyoming driver who was on his way home.
Freeway Tire replaced the two front tires and the left front axle on the New Jersey driver’s Honda Civic. The driver was told it would cost $1,800; then he received invoices for almost $2,400.
The Wyoming driver was towing a trailer and stopped his rig in New Harmony to buy gas. An employee of Freeway Tire walked out and told him his trailer springs were making a noise. The employee persuaded the driver to allow him to replace parts in the trailer’s undercarriage. The customer received a quote of $450 for the parts and $125 for labor, according to the judge’s ruling, and later received an invoice for $1,343.23.
In the case of the Wyoming motorist, there was an allegation that the repairs weren’t necessary. But the administrative law judge ruled in Freeway Tire’s favor on that point, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to second-guess the opinion of the repairman. The judge also said there wasn’t enough evidence of unlawful billing practices in a third case involving a Utah driver towing a trailer.
Heath’s business was the second tire shop on I-15 in southern Utah to be fined in two years. In 2015, the Division of Consumer Protection fined shops in Scipio and Beaver $10,000 for defrauding motorists.