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Santa Rosa mechanic accused of stealing from customers appears in court

A Santa Rosa mechanic accused of stealing from clients over the span of several years was formally charged Thursday in a court hearing attended by nearly a dozen people who accuse the auto shop owner of swindling them out cash and cherished vehicles and botching repairs.

In a sign of solidarity, they rose to their feet in the Sonoma County Superior courtroom when Judge Dana B. Simonds called out the mechanic’s name, Suede Barganski.

The group of customers included Vicki Benson, 74, a Santa Rosa resident named in the complaint who said she took her 1952 Lincoln Capri to Barganski three years ago for repairs.

Barganski, 52, owner of Rad Rods of NorCal, left her car inoperable and missing parts, she said. Her ex-husband also contacted Barganski to help sell his replica Daytona Coupe but later learned he took a larger cut of the profits than what the two agreed upon, she said.

“It’s the first day of a long ordeal,” Benson said after the arraignment outside the courtroom. “A lot of these people have been waiting for this moment for several years.”

Kami Dyer, of Santa Rosa, said she attended the hearing on behalf of her parents, who hired Barganski for upgrades to their 1947 Lincoln sedan in 2016 in exchange for her father’s 1972 Ford truck - the equivalent of about $10,000 worth of work. She found the car sitting in a field on a private property in Penngrove more than three years later after receiving a call from a stranger who warned her it was there. She towed the car, which was missing its engine and transmission, off the property the same day.

“I’m here to support my parents,” Dyer said after the hearing. “My parents’ dementia is at the point now that they think Suede is still going to fix their car.”

Simonds delayed entry of a plea and ordered Barganski to return to the courthouse on March 26. He declined to speak to a reporter after the hearing. His attorney also declined to answer questions.

Thursday’s arraignment was Barganski’s first court appearance in the Feb. 19 case, which includes three dozen felony charges and enhancements for 20 victims. The charges range from grand theft of personal property to identity theft, auto theft and forgery of California DMV vehicle transfer forms, court documents show.

Seven of the charges allege Barganski stole from customers he knew were seniors, including Benson, her ex-husband and Dyer’s dad.

Barganski was arrested by Santa Rosa officers March 2 in Windsor following business-practice investigations by the Santa Rosa Police Department and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The Hemmings Motor News monthly magazine reported Barganski had raised about $140,000 in donations and applied for nonprofit status for a vocational training program for troubled youth that he founded.

A search in the state’s nonprofit registry database located no match for the program, called the Classics and Rods (CAR) Vocational Training Program.

Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney David Kim, who works for the office’s environmental and consumer law division, is handling the case. The unit prosecutes criminal and civil consumer protection violations ranging from false advertising and fraud violations.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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