The stories seem to follow a pattern.
The customer drops off a vehicle at Mr. Transmission on Highway 278. Owner Linda Aguebor is friendly and solicitous, offering to work within their budget and steering them towards title loans to pay for repair if they can’t afford it.
Sometimes, several hundred dollars are paid up front.
Then weeks go by, sometimes months. Aguebor insists that she just needs a few more days, another week. She blames her manager, Robert Pace. Then she demands more money.
An argument ensues; sometimes the vehicle disappears, sometimes it’s grudgingly handed over with greasy boxes of parts that have been ripped out.
Aguebor and her businesses, Mr. Transmission and Sweet Hill Automotive, have been sued by at least 10 different individuals and businesses over the past three years. The Covington Mr. Transmission was given an F by the Better Business Bureau, and online reviews are grim. But people continue to take their cars there, trusting in the Mr. Transmission national brand.
In April, Aguebor was arrested for theft by deception in a case filed by Shawanda Eubanks, who lost her job and her home after Aguebor refused to hand over her vehicle until she paid more than $3,000 for work that Eubanks claims she never authorized.
“They took everything out of my car, the engine, everything,” said Eubanks, who was travelling from her home in Aiken, South Carolina, to Atlanta when her car broke down on I-20. “She said ‘it’s in my shop, I can do whatever I want to…because you gave me your birthday’.”
When Eubanks became angry, Aguebor referred her to Pace, who in turn blamed Aguebor. At one point, Eubanks was told Pace had been fired.
When Eubanks could no longer afford rent, she had to send her daughter to live with her mother so that the girl wouldn’t have to change schools. Now, Eubanks lives in Atlanta with her brother as she continues to fight the case.
“Given the fact that I lost my job and my home, I couldn’t even give you an estimate [of damages],” she said. “She has turned my world upside down and inside out.”
Aguebor would eventually remove Eubanks’ car from Mr. Transmission and declare it abandoned in Gwinnett County. Eubanks said when her brother called pretending to be in the market for a used car, Aguebor offered to sell him Eubanks’.
“I really wanted my car back, but now I’m really scared to get it back,” Eubanks said. “What if she’s done something so that my car will never work again?”
The District Attorney’s office said the case is with victims’ services and that the DA has not yet decided whether to pursue it.
It would hardly be the first time Aguebor has found herself in trouble with the law. In 2013, she was charged with theft by deception and perjury, but the DA moved to dismiss the case “nolle prosse” after a settlement was reached with the plaintiffs.
Furquan Stafford, who, along with his wife, Sheila, filed those criminal charges, said two years later, the family is still struggling to recover.
Without a vehicle to take their daughter to school, the Staffords were forced to place her with Sheila Stafford’s mother, who was not able to provide the same level of supervision, Furquan Stafford said.
“She has not been on the right path since,” Stafford said of the girl.
“As a man, to tell my wife that we don’t have a car, to work hard to save up money and then to go through all this, it was just traumatizing,” Stafford said, struggling to hold back tears. “The impact that she [Aguebor] is having on people’s lives goes beyond dollars and cents.”
Just a year earlier, in 2012, AAMCO Transmission, Inc. terminated a franchise agreement with Aguebor after a company investigation into her Athens branch discovered that she was engaging in “fraudulent and deceptive practices,” according to court documents.
These practices included using “junkyard” units in supposedly rebuilt transmissions, engines and torque converters; representing to customers that work was performed when it was not; and representing to customers that parts were replaced that were not.
When she continued to operate under the AAMCO name, the company sued her. The two parties settled and Aguebor vacated the property.
Around this time, she established a local franchise of Mr. Transmission in Covington.
Allison Woodard, who won a civil suit against Aguebor over a year ago, called her experience with her business “horrific.”
“[My car] was supposed to be ready in three days, but she would say ‘oh, a little more time’ and it never got ready,” recalled Woodard.
Over the next month, Woodard kept calling about her car.
“I had to call the Sheriff just to get them to release my car,” she said. “They threw parts everywhere, and didn’t even give me all the parts back…it was shredded.”
When Woodard arrived alongside a Sheriff’s deputy, Aguebo blamed her manager, Pace, but said he was unavailable because he had been bitten by a spider. According to the Newton County Sheriff’s office, deputies have responded to 48 calls for service at the Mr. Transmission since 2013.
“It affected my life tremendously,” Woodard said of the ordeal. “I had to pay for rides to work, and I had doctors’ appointments I couldn’t go to. I ended up buying a car that I don’t like and couldn’t really afford because I needed transportation.”
Woodard said last week that she has yet to receive the $800 awarded to her by the judge from Aguebor.
Alan Stewart took a truck to Aguebor despite his brother’s bad experience with her because she accepted trade dollars and agreed to barter with him, he said.
Stewart said he dropped the truck off and paid $600 for parts up front.
Over the coming months, he called Aguebor and Pace repeatedly to inquire about when the vehicle would be finished. Stewart said he was told that the truck, which is in his mother’s name, was a low priority because it was being done on barter.
After about six months, Aguebor asked for more money, but he and his mother refused to pay because she had not done any work on the truck for so long.
Finally, Stewart had the truck towed back to his home with the engine in pieces and parts missing.
“I don’t know what kind of opportunities I’ve lost…I haven’t been able to make money,” said Stewart, who needs transportation to do on site power washing jobs and tree work. “I would stay up at night just thinking about what she was doing to my truck…I’m helpless.”
Bonnie and L.A. Brunson filed a successful civil claim against Mr. Transmission after Aguebor kept their Volkswagen Beetle for several months and charged them nearly $3,000 for labor and parts.
“They started working on it, supposedly, but after a week she said they needed to reorder parts, and then after another few weeks she said they had the wrong fluid¬¬; it was one excuse after another,” L.A. Brunson said.
Finally, Aguebor told him the car was ready for pickup.
“Before we got halfway home it went kaput,” he said. When he took it to another mechanic, he said he was told that Aguebor had used the wrong fluid and parts, and had not replaced other parts she had charged him for.
The Brunsons said they still have not received the full refund that Aguebor was ordered to pay in court.
Others may not have the means to pursue legal action.
When he brought his truck to Aguebor in early March, Tristan Carnes, an apprentice blacksmith, was told he needed a new transmission and that it would only take a few days.
“I said ‘okay, great’; I’m a busy person, so I gave them $1,000 up front,” he recalled.
But the day he was supposed to pick up his vehicle, he couldn’t get ahold of anyone from the shop. When he finally did the next day, Aguebor told him that she needed another week to track down a different part.
“I got my truck back and the first day the transmission was already leaking,” said Carnes. His attempt to follow up for repairs was unsuccessful.
“At first they seemed like great, honest people,” Carnes said. “I’m working 14 hours a day; I just don’t have the time [to pursue legal action].”
“I feel totally ripped off; I was mad as hell,” he added.
When reached for comment, Aguebor maintained that any customer service “issues” were a result of her manager’s allegedly deteriorating health.
“I have to confess my manager [Pace], who has started taking radiation because he has brain cancer, was in charge,” she said. “I was never up front.”
When asked about the sheer number of former customers with similar complaints, she said, “We would like to get all those people back in here and sit down with them.”
A representative for the corporate office of Mr. Transmission in Midlothian, Illinois, said the company was conducting a local investigation of Aguebor’s franchise.
At least three former customers said they had complained to corporate customer service about Aguebor and received no help.
When asked if the corporate office was responsive to her concerns, Mary Wyatt, who won a $2,400 case against Aguebor last year, said: “Not at all.”
“They stopped taking my phone calls,” she said.
Stewart said he was told that each franchise operates independently and there was nothing the corporate office could do.
“They called me back but they’re not coming out and saying ‘we’re going to get you taken care of’,” he said. “That is not their attitude.”
Stafford said he was also told that the franchise was a separate entity, and was offered no assistance.