Fresno mechanic says customer drove off with own semi-truck without paying $21k repair bill

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A local mechanic is claiming a customer took off with his own semi-truck without paying for the more than $20,000 in repairs.

The owner says the incident happened on January 6 when his business was closed.

That owner says in his three decades of work as a mechanic he has never had this happen to him - a customer taking off in their vehicle without paying for the work.

Gabriel Puente has spent over 30 years servicing semi-trucks in the Central Valley.

But recently, he had to limit his mechanic duties to chase down a customer he says stiffed him out of $21,000.

It all started four months ago, when Puente says this semi-truck was towed to his yard for service by an owner he initially spoke with via text.

"I thought he was out of the area and that's most of my customers that come through here and break down from out of the area and it's never been a problem."

Puente has the paper trail - beginning with an invoice that dates back to October 18 last year.

On it is the customer's business name and phone number, along with a description of the service needed and costs.

"I sent him a quote; he said, 'Fix it'. And we disassembled the motor. We found more damage, I called him and told him, and he said, 'Fix whatever needs to be fixed, I don't need it to break down on the road'."

And so Puente says he did just that.

Finally, when the work was done, Puente says he contacted the owner to let him know the semi was ready for pick-up.

That is when he says the customer warned him - 'be careful, the bank might be picking up the truck. I haven't been making payments on it for four months'.

Puente says he immediately went out to his yard and realized the truck was gone.

"I went to my surveillance video and saw it was a personal truck and three people in it unlocked got in it and took it.

We found the license plate number on the back of the pickup truck was registered to the person Puente says is the customer.

He attempted to track him down at this West Central Fresno home and found the pickup truck seen in surveillance photos in the driveway.

Action News went to the home to get the other side of the story from the customer, but instead were only able to speak with a woman through a Ring camera device, who said she did not know where the man was and that he was a renter there.

That is the same story Puente says he was told when he showed up at the door.

"He played it like that was not him, he is a renter there. And he is saying, 'No I've never taken a truck anywhere. If I would have had a bill that big I would have took care of it'. So he is denying this all the way."

A couple of hours after Action News went to the customer's home, he called our station and denied the allegations.

He claims he never signed any paperwork authorizing the repairs.

The owner of the repair shop says he was told by a local agency he would have to file a civil suit and take this matter up in court because the customer owned the vehicle, so there was no theft involved.
Copyright © 2019 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.