State undercover agents allege pattern of fraud at dozens of Bay Area Jiffy Lubes

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- State undercover agents say they've found a pattern of fraud at dozens of Bay Area Jiffy Lubes -- all operated by a family franchise. In a story exclusive to ABC7 News, state investigators claim those locations have been selling services customers don't need.

All these Bay Area Jiffy Lubes are owned by the same Southern California family -- the Fanticolas. Just last December, the Fanticolas were featured in this glowing article in "National Oil and Lube News." But behind the scenes, they were already fighting a state accusation that many of their 41 Bay Area Jiffy Lubes were cheating customers.

"Fraud, false and misleading statements and deceit," said Pat Dorais.

Dorais is Chief of the California Bureau of Automotive Repair which launched an investigation into the Fanticola's Jiffy Lube shops three years ago. They found 105 causes for discipline at Jiffy Lubes in eight Bay Area counties, all part of what the bureau charges is a pattern for the entire Fanticola franchise.

"To try and get the vehicle and the consumer to do a repair on the car that wasn't even necessary," said Dorais.

The undercover operations started at a secret state auto lab. Technicians serviced and documented the condition of a wide range of cars to make sure everything was working properly. One by one, those cars were taken to Bay Area Jiffy Lubes owned by the Fanticolas.

"Our operators request an oil change and then we just see what happens," said Bill Thomas with the Auto Repair Enforcement Division.

What happened, according to state documents, was a long list of services the cars did not need.

"In many instances, our operators are being told the fluid that we had just changed is in bad condition, and has debris in it, sludge, things like that - and we know for a fact that's not the case," said Thomas.

State investigators say some of the Fanticola's Jiffy Lubes even performed services on cars that the manufacturer does not recommend or strongly recommends avoiding. The accusation is so extensive it took two years to put together.

"There's a lot of time and energy spent documenting the vehicles, sometimes very complex systems on the vehicle," said Dorais.

Agents made undercover runs to 37 Bay Area Jiffy Lubes owned by the Fanticolas. The documents show 26 locations did at least one unnecessary service with charges that added as much as $240 to the bill. Some Fanticola shops are accused of doing substandard work, damaging parts or failing to give estimates before work began. Bureau officials hope the case sends a message.

"We are always monitoring. We're always out there," said Thomas.

The bureau is asking to have the licenses for 51 Jiffy Lubes owned by the Fanticolas revoked or suspended. A hearing is scheduled later this month.

"Fraud is always a very, very big concern for the bureau because that's actual theft from consumers," said Thomas.

Neither the Jiffy Lube company nor the Fanticolas would comment on the case, but they sent a statement saying the Fanticolas are in ongoing discussions with the bureau about the allegations.

The statement from Fanticola operated Jiffy Lube franchise known as M.C. LLC says: "M.C., LLC is currently working with the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) on these pending allegations. It is premature to comment on the matter further because the discussions are ongoing."

Nevertheless, we would like to emphasize that M.C., LLC is a family-owned business that has been providing automotive services to California residents over the past 26 years, operating 95 Jiffy Lube service centers. We are committed to providing our customers with quality service and an outstanding experience."

The state documents with the list of all the Jiffy Lubes involved can be found by clicking here.
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