NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J.-The words stung. They hurt. They were, for Lewis Campanaro, maybe the worst fallout from the ABC News 20/20 TV show about alleged auto service fraud.
From a classmate of his 7-year-old daughter came: ``I saw your daddy on TV the other night 'cause he stole money from people.''
The 90 seconds 20/20 took to accuse his ``Lou's Service Center'' of selling what it called an unnecessary tune-up sullied the 60-plus years of good business reputation he said he's tried to nurture.
``There is a lot of talk in town that we're dishonest and 20/20 caught us doing something,'' said the 40-year-old, second-generation owner of the six-bay, gas, tire and service station in the small city of North Arlington. ``People who know me have stood behind me-but I don't know what (others) think. It can't be good.''
When two ``customers''-actually the undercover 20/20 investigative team-pulled into Lou's Service Center complaining their car was running rough, Mr. Campanaro and a mechanic did what they always do: Ask questions about the car's problems-who worked on it last and when.
He said they got no answers, or vague ones, ``so we put it on our diagnostic computer,'' which indicated two misgapped spark plugs and broken ends on two spark plug wires.
The mechanic found the plugs were not new. The wires were a cheap aftermarket brand, not original-equipment quality. The customer had no idea when the fuel filter was last changed.
Mr. Campanaro suggested repairs and the customer OK'd the estimate. After explaining the completed work, he returned the old parts, adding, ``If you have any problems, please let me know.''
Weeks later, a 20/20 news crew showed up at his office.
``I felt the best thing was to be honest with them.'' Mr. Campanaro said. ``I told him why we did what we did.''
There was little incentive to rip off customers, he noted-his mechanics are not on commission, but get a flat salary.
``We have a great reputation, and a really good rapport in our community with consumers,'' Mr. Campanaro insists. ``My dad, who started this business back in the '30s, always said you don't want people to think you're the type of operation that takes advantage of people. We're not like that.
``It's pretty tough to intentionally rip somebody off, then see the guy next to you in church, or coach his kids.''