City council candidate accused of running unlicensed auto glass store

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – State Senator Sam Bell filed a complaint with RI’s Department of Business Regulation accusing Oscar Vargas, a Democratic candidate for city council, of running an auto glass company without license.

Vargas works as a legislative assistant for the Senate, but also owns Vargas Auto Glass on Huldah Street in Olneyville. He is running in the special election for the Ward 15 seat recently vacated by Sabina Matos when she became lieutenant governor.

Bell – a Democrat from Providence who backs Vargas rival Doris De Los Santos in the five-a-side primary – filed a complaint with DBR on Friday. He expressed concern that the company was not appearing in a database of licensed auto glass repair shops on the state agency’s website.

The complaint included a photo of Vargas repairing a windshield wearing a mask under his chin, indicating he had been caught during the pandemic. Three photos submitted in the complaint were attached to a Google Maps entry for Vargas Auto Glass, which appears to have been removed.

DBR spokesperson Brian Hodge said the agency was investigating Bell’s complaint.

“We have no record of a license for Vargas Auto Glass to repair motor vehicle glass,” Hodge said. “An inspection of the installation by DBR in early May determined that the installation was not in service. DBR Inspector [John] Mancone informed him that he cannot operate without a license.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted DBR to visit the repair shop earlier this month.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Vargas said the business was now closed, but declined to say when it went out of business. In a previous interview with 12 News on April 30, Vargas said he worked part-time at his auto glass repair shop, usually after working full-time at the State House.

A press release last month announcing Vargas’ campaign also mentioned that he owns Vargas Auto Glass and said the business is operating.

“For the past 5 years, I have divided my time between my business and working for the Rhode Island Senate as a legislative assistant,” said the announcement. (He earns $ 44,776 a year as an assistant to the Senate, according to the state transparency portal.)

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Vargas said of Bell’s complaint.

Vargas did not initially respond to questions as to whether he had a license from DBR to repair auto glass. But spotted later Tuesday in the Huldah Street business, Vargas said he had previously performed repairs for people for free.

A sign on the company reads: “The automatic window installer is not in service until further notice”.

A 2015 state law called the Motor Vehicle Glass Consumer Protection Act requires any business that repairs auto glass to be licensed by DBR, which sets safety standards and regulations for operating such a business.

The law lists both a civil fine and a criminal misdemeanor charge as possible remedies for operating an unlicensed auto glass business.

Hodge said DBR had no record of being licensed by Vargas Auto Glass.

“The operation of unlicensed auto glass repair shops is very serious,” Bell said in an email. “The General Assembly has adopted these crucial licensing requirements to protect consumers from shoddy work, and it is extremely alarming that an auto glass repair shop is violating the licensing status.”

Bell – whose Senate district straddles Ward 15 – admitted that he had had political disagreements with Vargas in the past, including when Vargas ran against Matos for city council in 2018.

“He and I have had major political disagreements, and I think we come from opposing factions of the Democratic Party,” Bell said. (Although Vargas is a Democrat, he also has the backing of the Republican President of Providence, Dave Talan.)

But Bell said its complaint was based on concerns that consumers are receiving “shoddy work” from the company, calling it a “brazen attempt not to follow the rules.”

The Ward 15 special election primary will take place on June 8. Besides Vargas and De Los Santos, the other Democrats in the running are Casandra Inez, Iasha Hall and Santos Javier.

Steph machado ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.