2017-07-13 / Front Page

Motor vehicle repair facility owner sent to jail

By Cindy Centofanti
Staff Writer • ccentofanti@mihomepaper.com

Russell Dunn Russell Dunn BAD AXE - The owner of a towing company and body shop that was shuttered by the state for business violations was sentenced to three months behind bars on Monday in circuit court.

Russell Clarence Dunn, 38, of Harbor Beach, originally pleaded no contest on May 3 to charges of concealing or misrepresenting the identity of a motor vehicle with the intent to mislead and operation of a motor repair facility without a license. However, he reappeared in front of Huron Circuit Court Judge Gerald M. Prill for his sentencing with attorney Andrew Lockard after taking a plea agreement, which was offered by the prosecutor’s office.

As a part the agreement, a charge of false pretenses with intent to defraud a victim of between $1,000 and $20,000 was dismissed. The plea agreement also dismissed a second count of operation of a motor repair facility without a license.

Dunn stood silently next to Lockard as the charges were revisited. For the single count of misrepresentation of a vehicle conviction, Dunn faced a felony with a maximum penalty of four years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. As for the operation of a motor repair facility without a license, the maximum penalty he could be given was 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Lockard opened his defense by admitting Dunn’s business skills were poor. He said Dunn, who operated body shops and towing businesses in Harbor Beach and Bad Axe, moved too quickly and constructed his empire on unstable ground, which ultimately caused him to overlook necessary things in order to operate a legitimate business - such as license.

According a report from the Huron County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation into Dunn’s companies began when a customer who had his vehicle serviced by the body shop filed a complaint after discovering a plate containing vehicle identification number on the 2013 Chevrolet had been replaced. Upon further investigation, it was deemed Dunn’s license to operate had expired in 2014, leaving him illegally working on customers’ vehicles for nearly one year and four months.

Lockard continued the defense on his client’s workmanship saying the work he did was wonderful and his generosity was immeasurable.

“My client has so much generosity that it allows people to walk all over him,” Lockard said. “As for the changing of the VINs, my client said the insurance company adjuster said to take one VIN from the cab and switch it on to another cab.”

Both Huron County Prosecutor Timothy J. Rutkowski and Prill questioned why an insurance company would tell a client to violate the law. Rutkowski and Lockard each discussed a scenario in which Dunn removed the VIN plate from an old cab and welded into the newer cab.

Lockard said it was a mistake that will not be repeated.

“Russell Dunn has no intention of ever running another business in Huron County again,” he said.

Rutkowski agreed with Lockard on one matter, that Dunn’s business management skills were certainly poor. He also said that Dunn was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by billing customers for work that had never been done.

Consumers who had a complaint against Russ’s Body Shop were encouraged to call the Office of Investigative Services Automotive Complaint Line. Dunn agreed to repay defrauded customers through restitution ordered by the court. Under Michigan law, a customer is entitled to recover any amount paid to an unregistered facility for the repair of a motor vehicle belonging to that customer.

After reflecting upon both defense and prosecuting side, Prill said there is a reason why body shop owners must maintain a license.

“There is a reason for a license, it is so you have a reputable business,” Prill said.

He continued to reference to Dunn’s accusation of the insurance adjuster telling him to swap VIN numbers on a cab.

“You cannot blame other people. At the end of the day you look in the mirror, and it’s you,” Prill said.

It was the sentence of the court that Dunn would serve 90 days in jail for the first and second charge, both of which have zero days credit for time already served. Prill also placed the defendant on a 12-month probation, during which he must successfully pay full restitution and pay all charges - probation oversight fee at $10 per month, attorney fees, $130 in crime victim rights, $68 in state minimum costs and $60 DNA fines and costs.

Additionally, Dunn was ordered to have no contact with the victim, and he must execute a wage assignment to pay fines and costs as mentioned above.

Russ’s Body Shop & 24 Hour Towing had two locations, 684 N. Port Crescent St. in Bad Axe and 8260 Sand Beach Road in Harbor Beach. On Aug. 8, the Michigan Secretary of State office issued a cease and desist order against the Harbor Beach shop due to the unlawful operation of the facility without proper registration. Both locations remain closed as of Wednesday morning.

Dunn was remanded to the custody of the Huron County Jail.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Dunn's age. He is 38.

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