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Shop owner pleads guilty

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By David Giuliani

The owner of a local auto repair shop has pleaded guilty to attacking customers who owed him money.

In plea agreements in January, Romero, 32, owner of Michael’s Precision Automotive, admitted to two counts of aggravated battery and one count of attempting to commit a felony, all of which are misdemeanors.

As part of the agreements, prosecutors dropped charges of unlawful taking of a vehicle, robbery, kidnapping, extortion and intimidation of a witness.

His attorney said this week that his client’s guilty pleas were a business decision.

Magistrate Court sentenced Romero to a total of three years of unsupervised probation in the two cases and required him to compensate the victims and not enter liquor establishments. He also must get anger management counseling and undergo alcohol and drug screening.

In an interview last year, Romero told the Optic that the alleged victims assaulted him first, calling one a “gangbanger.”

“I was defending myself,” he said.

His attorney, Dave Romero, is appealing one part of the sentence — the requirement that Romero stay away from liquor establishments. He said his client didn’t agree to this rule as part of his plea agreement.

“The defendant enjoys his beers on special occasions with his friends and family. Alcohol was not a part of the allegations against the defendant, and the defendant does not want to set himself up for failure with the conditions of release,” the attorney stated in court documents.

The attorney said a district attorney-sponsored assessment found his client had no problems with alcohol or drugs.

• • •

Romero, the attorney, said his client entered the plea agreements because it occurred to him that there were no witnesses who could verify his side of the story.

“Mr. Romero was disturbed that these charges were brought against him in the first place,” the attorney said. “Mr. Romero has been a longstanding person in the business community and has contributed to the community and those who need help.”

The attorney said the alleged victims had promised to pay their bills as soon as his client finished the work.

“He didn’t collect in advance. Now that they owe him money, they make up an excuse that he assaulted them,” he said. “As a businessman, he couldn’t afford to place the final decision in the hands of a jury, depending on who they believe.”

The attorney said his client still intends to collect from the alleged victims civilly. He said the response by the alleged victims has made it impossible for him to extend credit to as many people as he has in the past.

“Being generous in helping those who need help hasn’t paid off,” attorney Romero said.  

• • •

According to court documents, on Sept. 6, 2007, a 19-year-old man told police that he was at Pecos Street and University Avenue when two men drove up. The teen alleged that Michael Romero got out and struck him repeatedly as he still sat in the car. The other person in the car was alleged to have been then-City Councilman Eugene Romero, the suspect’s cousin.

The alleged victim said Michael Romero told him that he still owed money on his car, according to a police report. The suspect reached in, took the keys and drove off with the car, the report states.

The alleged victim admitted that he owed $400 on the car. Police later found that Michael Romero took off with the alleged victim’s sister’s car, according to a report. They later found it on Michael Romero’s property, officials said.

• • •

In July, Michael Romero was accused of attacking another man who owed him money for car repairs, according to a complaint filed in Magistrate Court.

Police said the victim and Michael Romero met at a tattoo shop on Grand Avenue, and the suspect asked the victim for the money. The man said he didn’t have the money and that he wasn’t employed. Michael Romero asked him to go with him to his office at Michael’s Precision to sign a contract for a payment plan. The alleged victim went with the shop owner.

When they arrived at the office, the man sat down, but Michael Romero started to attack him, the report stated. Michael Romero allegedly punched the man in the face and knocked him down to the floor and kneed him in the head, face and ribs. He then pulled a handgun with a pearl-colored handle from behind his waistband, police said.

Michael Romero said it was a serious manner and that he didn’t mind going to prison if he had to shoot the alleged victim, the complaint stated. He also reportedly told the man that things would get worse if he reported the incident to police, and added that the bill had gone up from what he has originally charged.

Michael Romero allegedly told the man that he would have to work for free cleaning the shop every Saturday in payment for the debt. He then told the alleged victim to clean the blood from himself, and he gave the man a ride back to the tattoo shop.

The man reported the matter to the police.