Authorities discover possible chop shop in Auburn

AUBURN - Auburn police are investigating the possibility that a man who was allegedly operating a transmission repair shop illegally was really running a chop shop for several months.

Detective Sgt. Lee Lapsky said code enforcement officers had been trying to access 42-year-old Charles Betts Hogan's transmission business for several months to cite him for operating a business without a license, but that Hogan would never answer the phone or come to the door.

Hogan, who lived at the business at 128 Ethridge Road, had been in business for eight or nine months, Lapsky said. He was reportedly monitoring his door with a camera and only allowing people he knew to enter.

Gwinnett County police had a warrant for Hogan for theft by taking, Lapsky said, in relation to a theft from Nationwise Transmission last year. They had also tried to serve the warrant with no success.

Lapsky said some children who were playing outside the building Jan. 12 told officers their father was inside the business after they had tried unsuccessfully for several months to gain entry. The officers walked in and arrested Hogan.

Auburn police saw other objects in the building, Lapsky said, and helped Gwinnett police obtain a search warrant Tuesday. They reportedly found items from a second robbery at Nationwise Transmission and the engine of a car that was reported stolen from Loganville in 2004.

"It kind of blew wide open," Lapsky said.

Hogan is also facing charges in Barrow County of possessing a vehicle with an altered ID number, Lapsky said.

Police suspect that the operation was really a chop shop. One car owner who took his vehicle there told police that he had been unable to get his car back for six months since bringing it in for repair. Another person said Hogan had scammed him out of $2,500 to start the business, according to police, and the building's landlord told officers Hogan owed $14,000 in back rent.

Police are continuing to investigate Hogan's business.