Santa Rosa mechanic arrested on grand theft charges
Kami Dyer remembers going on countless weekend visits to Sonoma Raceway as a child, where she watched her dad compete in hot rod races to test the speed of his souped-up 1939 Chevrolet.
The trips were a reflection of his interest in vehicles, a passion that led him and his wife to buy a sky blue 1947 Lincoln sedan in 2015, using the proceeds from the sale of their Rohnert Park mobile home. With her parents having accumulated no other savings, the car was intended to be Dyer’s inheritance, she said. But a visit to a Santa Rosa auto shop in July 2016 for what were supposed to be minor fixes was the last time Dyer’s father was able to drive the car.
Two months later, her father and the shop’s owner, Suede Barganski, agreed on $10,000 worth of repairs and upgrades in exchange for Dyer’s father’s 1972 Ford truck, but she says the work was never completed.
She wouldn’t see the car again until last November, more than three years after her parents took the car to Barganski’s shop, when a stranger called to tell her the Lincoln was sitting in a field on private property in Penngrove. Barganski had reassured Dyer’s parents that the work was ongoing several times, during a period in her dad’s life that was complicated by a dementia diagnosis and bladder cancer, Dyer said.
She hung up the phone and immediately headed to Penngrove to look at her father’s car.
“It looked better than I thought it would, but the engine is gone and the transmission is gone. My parents drove it to the shop and now it’s undriveable,” she said.
Barganski, 52, of Santa Rosa, was arrested by police Monday afternoon in Windsor following investigations by the Santa Rosa Police Department and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office into his practices as a mechanic.
The arrest came nearly two weeks after prosecutors filed three dozen felony charges against Barganski in Sonoma County Superior Court, among them 20 counts of grand theft dating to as early as 2014, ranging from a few thousand dollars up to more than $72,000, court records show. Dyer’s dad, Denis Quinn, is one of 20 victims named in the criminal complaint.
Prosecutors additionally filed two charges of auto theft, plus forgery and embezzlement charges and seven counts of theft from an elderly person. The investigation is ongoing and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday encouraged anyone who may have been a victim or knows additional information about the case to contact the office or police, Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said.
“All of these individuals were business associates or clients of (Barganski),” Staebell said.
Barganski did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday and an attorney listed as his lawyer for a separate civil case declined to speak to a reporter Thursday.
Santa Rosa police began their investigation into Barganski in October, when they received a report that he sold two vehicles he did not own. The investigation found Barganski was hired earlier that year to work on a 1954 Lincoln, which he then illegally sold to another person who did not realize Barganski was not the owner. That person then hired Barganski to perform additional work on the vehicle, the department said. The department did not provide additional information about the second car reported stolen to them.
Barganski was released from jail on a $50,000 bail the same day he was arrested and is due in court for an arraignment hearing Thursday morning.
Angela Cordova, who runs a DMV registration service in Sonoma County, said she’s helped several victims named in the criminal case against Barganski, including Dyer’s parents, locate their vehicles and file complaints with the Bureau of Automotive Repair, the state agency that handles car repair complaints from consumers.
The bureau launched an investigation into Barganski’s activity after receiving the complaints, said Veronica Harms, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the automotive repair bureau. The bureau’s website shows the mechanic was cited in July for making repairs without a valid registration.
Harms declined to provide details on the number and nature of the complaints the bureau received.
Cordova said she got involved after a friend who hired Barganski for a paint job that reportedly “destroyed” the car started a Facebook group in early 2018 to share awareness about Barganski.
They then convened a group of volunteers who tracked about a dozen cars Barganski was working on to a field in Penngrove owned by another man who knew Barganski, she said.
After telling the property owner about her effort to aid Barganski’s customers, she got his permission to inspect the cars for clues about their owners, notify them of the vehicles’ locations and help tow the cars off the property, Cordova said. She was the woman who called Dyer.
“I said, ‘Be prepared, your car probably won’t look like how you dropped it off,’?” Cordova said of her calls to the vehicle owners. “That’s the story across the board. Cars are destroyed, stripped or stolen, gone.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203.
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.