PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — State Sen. Sam Bell has filed a complaint with the R.I. Department of Business Regulation accusing Oscar Vargas, a Democratic candidate running for City Council, of running an unlicensed auto glass business.
Vargas works as a legislative aide for the Senate, but also owns Vargas Auto Glass on Huldah Street in Olneyville. He’s running in the special election for the Ward 15 seat recently vacated by Sabina Matos when she became lieutenant governor.
Bell — a Providence Democrat who is supporting Vargas rival Doris De Los Santos in the five-way primary — filed a complaint with DBR on Friday. He expressed concern that the business did not appear 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 it was taken 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 taken down.
DBR spokesperson Brian Hodge said the agency is investigating Bell’s complaint.
“We do not have record of a license for Vargas Auto Glass for motor vehicle glass repair,” Hodge said. “An inspection to the facility by DBR in early May determined the facility was not in operation. DBR Inspector [John] Mancone did inform him that he cannot operate without a license.”
It was not immediately clear what prompted DBR to visit the repair shop earlier this month.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Vargas said the business is now closed, but declined to say when he stopped operating. During a previous interview with 12 News on April 30, Vargas had said he worked at his auto glass repair shop part time, typically after work at his full-time State House job.
A news release last month announcing Vargas’s campaign also mentioned that he owned Vargas Auto Glass, and indicated the business was operating.
“For the past 5 years I have split time between my business and working for the Rhode Island Senate as a legislative aide,” the announcement said. (He earns $44,776 a year as a Senate aide, according to the state transparency portal.)
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Vargas said of Bell’s complaint.
Vargas initially did not answer questions about whether he has a license from DBR to repair auto glass. But spotted later Tuesday at the Huldah Street business, Vargas said he had previously been doing repair work for people for free.
A sign on the business reads: “auto glass installer not in service until further notice.”
A 2015 state law called the Motor Vehicle Glass Consumer Protection Act requires any business that does auto glass repair to be licensed with DBR, which sets safety standards and regulations for operating such a business.
The statute lists both a civil fine and a misdemeanor criminal charge as possible remedies for operating an auto glass business without a license.
Hodge said DBR has no record of Vargas Auto Glass ever being licensed.
“The operation of unlicensed auto glass repair shops is very serious,” Bell said in an email. “The General Assembly passed these crucial licensing requirements to protect consumers from shoddy work, and it is extremely alarming for an auto glass repair shop to violate the licensing statute.”
Bell — whose Senate district overlaps with Ward 15 — acknowledged he has had political disagreements with Vargas in the past, including when Vargas ran against Matos for City Council in 2018.
“He and I have had significant policy disagreements, and I think come from opposite factions of the Democratic party,” Bell said. (While Vargas is a Democrat, he also has the support of Providence Republican chairman Dave Talan.)
But Bell said his complaint is based on concerns that consumers are receiving “shoddy work” from the business, calling it a “brazen attempt to not follow the rules.”
The primary for the Ward 15 special election is on June 8. In addition to Vargas and De Los Santos, the other Democrats in the race are Casandra Inez, Iasha Hall and Santos Javier.