A 38-year-old auto repair operator in Southeast Washington was arrested on charges of consumer fraud and licensing violations yesterday after a month-long investigation involving three District of Columbia government agencies.
James Cox, Jr. was arrested by D.C. police at Cox Auto Repairs, 2201 Alabama Avenue SE, on charges of operating without a license, overcharging consumers, stealing spare parts from consumers' automobiles, and violating D.C. Zoning laws.
Police said Cox was booked at 7th District Police headquarters and is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court today. If convicted, Cox faces a $300 fine or 90-days imprisonment.
Norman Smith, an investigator for the Office of Consumer Protection, said the office receives an average of 121 auto repair complaints, monthly. He added that yesterday's arrest came after a coordinated investigation by his agency, D.C. police, and the city's Department of Economic Development.
"He [Cox] had been without a license since November, 1976, and we'd sent three warning letters to him and six verbal warnings," said Smith. "In May alone we got three consumer complaints about inadequate repairs, overcharging and theft of spare parts."
The D.C. Department of Economic Development had a two-year-old folder on Cox for violations of zoning laws, which prohibited Cox from having more than three cars on his lot.Investigators said they found an average of 10 to 14 autos on his premises during the two-year period.
Seventh District Police Sergeant William Aleschire sparked the final phase of the investigation leading to Cox's arrest. While driving by the repair shop one day last month, Aleschire's cruiser was flagged down by a woman running from the lot.
"Tears were streaming down her face," Aleschire said. "She said the repairman charged her $800 for some work on her car, but hadn't done anything. I started getting curious because I looked over the car and didn't find all that much done for it."
The files were brought together for the first time and a meeting Wednesday night in the D.C. Corporation Counsel's Office, Assistant Corporational Counsel Howard Horowitz signed warrants for Cox's arrest.
Smith said his office had been hampered by a lack of coordination with other D.C. offices. "Now we know how to work together," he said. "And we're going to crack down."