Owners of Windsor hot rod shop arrested on theft charges

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Almost a year to the day after a Facebook group was created to connect victims of alleged car fraud, Windsor police took the owners of West Coast Auto Craft into custody this month and booked them in Sonoma County Jail on dozens of counts of grand theft.

Christopher Miranda, 43, co-owner of the hot rod and classic car restoration shop in Windsor, was arrested May 4 and remains in jail on 16 counts of grand theft and eight counts of identity theft, with bail set at $1.5 million. His girlfriend and co-owner, Pamela Malfa, 35, was charged with 13 counts of grand theft. Malfa pleaded not guilty and was released from jail May 5, while Miranda has yet to enter a plea.

“The guy is a skilled manipulator,” said Jack Harris, who lives in Concord and met Miranda at a Goodguys car show in the East Bay in 2014. “It’s sad because I really liked Chris. He’s great with people. He fooled me. He fooled my family.”

Jai Gohel, an attorney representing Malfa, said his client is not guilty of fraud but may have engaged in “bad business practices.” Miranda did not have an attorney Friday.

There are 13 named victims in the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office’s case against Miranda, which it has been building for the better part of a year. The investigation is ongoing and there will likely be more victims added to the case, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said.

Miranda is on federal probation for drug trafficking, Staebell said. In January, Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies arrested him on suspicion of being a felon in possession of ammunition.

Numerous people who claim to have been defrauded by Miranda shared similar stories in interviews and online in a Facebook group titled “West Coast Auto Craft Victim’s (sic) page.”

Miranda met many of his alleged victims, like Harris, at car shows throughout Northern California and the Central Valley. At the shows, he displayed classic cars he had restored and sought future clients. After boasting about his services and quality of work, he would quote potential customers a price for restorations and repair.

Once clients agreed to the offer, Miranda would drive to their homes to pick up the vehicles and ask for a down payment, often in excess of $10,000. Many alleged victims claim Miranda told them it would be a matter of months before their cars were ready.

Harris said he agreed to have Miranda paint and redo the interior of his 1932 Ford Highboy roadster. The job was priced at $22,500 and Miranda told Harris it would take three months. Harris cut a deposit check for $10,000 and Miranda hauled the antique roadster to West Coast Auto Craft’s former location in Cloverdale.

But, the common refrain on the Facebook group is months turn into years and Miranda would continue to request more and more money for repairs that were never done.

In June 2015, nearly seven months after he picked up Harris’ car, Miranda told his customer it would take more time and money. For the next 14 months, Miranda dodged Harris, he said. Finally, Harris terminated the contract and retrieved his car in pieces in September. The car had been clean and operable when Miranda picked it nearly two years before, Harris said.

“Chris is pretty selective about his victims. They’re all professional. Most don’t have the time to follow him too closely,” said Harris, 64, who retired from Chevron after working 32 years as an environmental health officer.

Miranda is also alleged to have used the credit card information of his clients to make purchases for himself. Prosecutors alleged that Miranda racked up more than $14,000 in car parts for his personal Z06 Corvette on a client’s American Express card in April.

More than a dozen people have come forward to share their stories on the Facebook group, generating hundreds of comments. Several people have been kicked out of the 64-member group for threatening violence, Harris said.

“I don’t agree with promoting violence, but I think he does need to sit in jail,” Harris said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.

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