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Owner Of Food Truck Sales Company Operating In LE After Allegedly Leaving Dozens Empty-Handed In NorCal

'The investigation involves dozens upon dozens of alleged victims, and more are coming forward,' says a Stanislaus County deputy district attorney

Law enforcement agencies in San Bernardino and Stanislaus counties are investigating a man known as “the taco truck guy” who allegedly bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars from dozens of people who failed to receive the food trucks he agreed to sell or build for them.

Fernando Ochoa Juaregui, 27, owner of Ceres-based 8A Food Truck Inc., is alleged to have entered into agreements with upwards of 40 people in the Central Valley, said Wendell Emerson, chief deputy district attorney for Stanislaus County.

“The investigation involves dozens upon dozens of alleged victims … and more are coming forward,” Emerson said in a telephone interview. Additionally, he said, “We’re learning about more cases down in the Inland Empire area.”

Ceres police Sgt. Dirk Nieuwenhuis said his department received complaints from upwards of 25 of Juaregui’s customers, some who claim to have lost their life savings, before the case was handed off to the district attorney’s office for follow-up investigation.

Nieuwenhuis said the latest complaint against Juaregui was reported to the Ceres Police Department on Tuesday, Feb. 13, by a woman claiming she was bilked out of $47,600 in 2022 by Juaregui in a fraudulent food truck business deal.

Delayed projects

Reached by telephone, Juaregui said he did not speak English well and needed a translator. He subsequently responded to questions via email.

He said in an email that in previous months his company experienced delays in being able to complete some projects on time, and customers started asking for refunds.

“This could not be possible because the money was poured into the projects. Now we are taking action and we will begin to return money to the affected clients to be able to fix this situation. We will continue working to fix all this,” Juaregui said, adding that he will continue advertising his business and work to clean up his company’s image.

“The more news comes out, the more difficult it is to get ahead,” he said.

Juaregui said he now divides his time between Northern California and San Bernardino County, where he has expanded his business operations.

Inland Empire connection

In addition to dozens of alleged victims in the Central Valley, Juaregui also is alleged to have defrauded at least three people in San Bernardino County out of $40,000, collectively, in food truck deals.

They include a San Bernardino couple who claim they gave Juaregui a $15,000 cash deposit for a food service trailer and a Victorville man alleging he gave Juaregui nearly $25,000 to convert a van into a food truck. All three claim they received nothing in return.

The San Bernardino couple, Alejandro Gonzalez and his wife, Paulina Quintal, claim Juaregui did deliver a trailer to their driveway, only to take it back a couple of days later. They filed a report with the San Bernardino Police Department on Jan. 24, Capt. Nelson Carrington said.

Gonzalez and Quintal, who own and operate Mi Casita Purepecha Mexican Grill in San Bernardino, wanted to create a new revenue stream by purchasing the trailer to set up a food truck operation in Riverside, and were poised to purchase another trailer from Juaregui as well. Gonzalez said he even paid the required permit fees at the Riverside County Department of Public Health.

Gonzalez said a chat group was established on the WhatsApp social media platform as a support system for Juaregui’s alleged victims to share their stories.

“We have a lot of people trying to help us get this guy,” he said.

Money in, nothing out

Juaregui, according to law enforcement officials and some of his customers, required deposits in exchange for starting work on food trucks. He then would require additional payments as work progressed in phases on each project.

However, Juaregui failed to deliver the trucks. And when the customers asked to see them, he would come up with reasons as to why they couldn’t.

“Every time we made an appointment to go see the trailers, he always had an excuse — he was out of town, he had an appointment,

he was going to go pick up supplies out of the L.A. area. Every time he made excuses, so we started to get suspicious,” said Sebastian Delgado of Salinas.

He claims Juaregui took $90,000 from him and his wife, Norma Estevez, for the purchase and construction of two 16-foot food service trailers. The couple said they planned to use one truck to serve food to migrant workers at a friend’s ranch and another to serve food to patrons at a local bingo hall.

One day, Delgado and Estevez made a surprise visit to Juaregui at his business and asked to see the trailers, one of which Juaregui said had been completed, according to Delgado.

“When we went in, we saw that the trailer that was supposed to be done wasn’t even finished. The other one wasn’t even started,” Delgado said. “We never got the trailers, so we lost out on two businesses.”

Civil litigation

Some of Juaregui’s customers have sought remedy in civil court.

A Victorville man who requested anonymity paid Juaregui nearly $25,000 in October 2021 for a van he wanted converted to a food truck. Juaregui allegedly reneged on the deal.

Ameet Singh Birring, a Modesto attorney representing the Victorville resident, sued Juaregui in November 2022 alleging breach of contract and fraud. In June 2023, a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge entered a judgment against Juaregui for more than $28,000, which included damages, interest and litigation costs, court records show.

“He took advantage of hard-working people. These people invested their life savings,” Birring said of Juaregui in a telephone interview. He said Juaregui was well known throughout the Central Valley as “the taco truck guy.”

Jeronimo and Adriana Nicanor, who own Kaji Tepanyaki in San Joaquin, claim they agreed in January 2023 to purchase a food trailer from Juaregui for $53,000 and gave him a $20,000 deposit. Juaregui told them the trailer would be completed no later than April 1, 2023, according to a declaration by the couple filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Juaregui never delivered on the deal, so the couple sued him in July 2023 for fraud and breach of contract.

“Unfortunately, Fernando took our money and did not build our trailer. He has refused to return our calls and give our money back,” according to the declaration. “It is clear to us that he has stolen our money and committed a terrible fraud against us.”

The couple’s attorney, Nathan Miller, said Juaregui never responded to the lawsuit, so Miller requested a judgment of more than $33,000 be entered against Juaregui. He said the request is pending.

“(Juaregui) has contacted my clients and myself and has attempted to work out a payment plan. As of today’s date, no payments have been received,” Miller said in a telephone interview.

Started own business

Before he established 8A Food Truck last year, Juaregui worked at Cal Central Catering Trailers in Modesto, where he did fabrication and electrical work and helped build food trucks, said his ex-wife, Alma Macias, who met Juaregui while working there as a receptionist right out of high school.

Macias said Juaregui emigrated from Colima, Mexico, to the U.S. on a tourist visa. The two married in 2018 and, a few months later, Juaregui started talking about starting his own business, Macias said in a telephone interview.

“He had many years working at Cal Central and he felt he could do the job,” Macias said.

So Juaregui quit his job and began visiting food truck proprietors in the Modesto and Ceres areas, Macias said.

“He would ask them if their refrigeration needed restoring or if their fryers needed work,” Macias said.

In 2023, Juaregui formed 8A Food Truck Inc. and the business quickly took off, Macias said.

“He grew very quickly. He started asking people for deposits on repairs and building brand new food trucks,” Macias said.

Then, angry customers started showing up at the couple’s front door, Macias said.

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