Mar. 15, 2017

SHOW ME THE MONEY

In 1999 we were looking to fill some of the empty singlewide spaces in Hillsdale with 16 foot wide mobile homes.  The 16 wide mobile homes had come on the market a few years earlier but never really caught on with buyers.  In order to move a 16 foot wide mobile home on the roads you needed a special permit and a California Highway Patrol escort when transporting the home.  Auctions were held frequently to bid on these homes.  We asked some members in our industry if they had a good source and were they reliable.  One such gentleman, Steve, came highly recommended to Lynn and me.  We contacted Steve and agreed to meet in Boomtown for lunch just outside of Reno, NV.  After lunch, Steve took us to about 3 different locations in the Reno area to look at 16 wide homes that were up for auction.  At each location I took pictures of the inside and the outside of the homes.  We headed back home to Sacramento to speak to our bosses about what we had seen on our trip.  After some discussion, it was decided which 16 wide we would bid on.  The price was to be $16,500.00 for the home but teardown, transporting and set up would be additional costs.  Steve asked for a cashier’s check made out to him for $16,500.00 which we obtained and mailed certified mail to him.  The auction was set for a Monday morning and Steve assured us we would win the bidding and his crew would start teardown shortly after.

Tuesday morning rolled around and we called Steve to see how the teardown was progressing.  The first Red Flag was about to appear.  Steve informed us that he had made a mistake and the home we told him to bid on was not up for bid.  We were curious how this could happen and immediately told him to return our cashier’s check for $16,500.00.  Steve assured us that he would be mailing our check back shortly.  We had to break the news to one of our bosses, Bill, of what had happened.  He was not happy and asked us to stay on top of the situation.  As days passed and no check arriving in the mail, we were calling Steve daily.  After calling for several days to no avail, Steve would not answer our calls.  Our boss, Bill, was getting angry and decided to call Steve since Steve would not recognize the phone number from Bill.   He got lucky and Steve answered his call.  Bill told Steve that his managers (Lynn and I) were ready to drive up that day and pick up the check, but Steve assured Bill he would mail the check that very day.  We contacted the man who had recommended Steve to us to tell him of the situation with Steve and how disappointed we were.  He told us that he had a hard time believing Steve would do that and he added, “ I trust Steve and would trust him with my wallet”.

In the meantime, we had our private investigator run Steve’s name and get what information they could for us.  It was determined that Steve owned property in Topaz Lake Estates, NV and there were a couple of other addresses listed as well.  When the check had still not arrived after two weeks, Lynn and I made the decision to travel to Minden, NV the county seat for Douglas County to see what we could determine regarding Steve and his scam.

Early one Friday morning armed with our investigative reports and the photos I had taken from Reno, Lynn and I left in the car and headed to Minden, NV.  We weren’t sure what we would accomplish but we were going to give it our best shot.  First stop was the County Assessor’s Office in Minden.  We double checked for any properties listed in Steve’s name.  A couple of addresses came up in Minden and a mobile home in Topaz Lake Estates, NV a short distance from Minden.   Our next stop was the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.  We explained our situation to a Sgt. Hill stating we were not there to cause any trouble with Steve, we just wanted our money returned. We showed him the pictures I had taken and I hadn’t realized at the time that I had a good picture of Steve as well as one of his truck including the license number.  Sgt. Hill said to me, “oh you are good”.   We asked if a deputy could accompany us to the locations to keep the peace.  Sgt. Hill was very helpful and sent a deputy with us to the first address.  The first address was a house that looked like it was being remodeled.  No one was there but it appeared workers had been there and might be at lunch.  The deputy suggested we go have lunch and he would meet us back at this location in about an hour and we agreed.

Our next stop was to the Post Office to see if we had the correct mailing address for Steve and then on to Steve’s bank.  When we explained to the bank employee our situation and needed to know if our check had been deposited to his account, she had a grim expression on her face and told us that in no way was there $16,500.00 in his bank account.  We were not feeling very positive at this point.

We drove back to the first house and the deputy arrived shortly.  There was a group of about 4 men working on the house.  We introduced ourselves and told them we were looking for Steve.  They all replied, “So are we”.  They were all looking for Steve as well since he owed them money.  With no luck, we headed to the second house following the deputy.  When the house came into view, it was nothing short of a huge mansion and I was thinking, well there’s our $16,500.00.  When we arrived, the deputy asked us to remain in our car and let him speak to the gentleman who came out of the house.  We immediately knew that this man was not our Steve.  The deputy talked to the gentleman and then came back to tell us what had transpired.  This gentleman had the exact same name as Steve and was constantly being mistaken for Steve.  Apparently, Steve had paid some of his workers with checks and when they cashed the checks at a local casino, the checks bounced.  The casino was looking for Steve as well.

One last place to check out down in Topaz Lake Estates.  It was getting later over in the day and the deputy told us he would drive on down with us, but if we saw him break off and leave it would be because he had received another call somewhere else.  We told him we understood and off we went.  The name Topaz Lake Estates has a certain ring to it…..like it must be sort of fancy.  That was certainly not true.  As we entered the area, there would be a shack over here or a trailer over there.  A mixture of everything imaginable.  We finally found the location of Steve’s place.  It was a doublewide trailer on a hillside with a very tall fence around the property.  We had no cell phone reception on our phones in that area.  We parked across the road and waited for the deputy.  The deputy opened the gate on the fence and disappeared in the yard.  A few seconds later he came running out the gate.  A large dog was in the yard behind that fence.  We had Steve’s home phone number and since we had no phone signal, the deputy and Lynn went to the front door and the deputy had his dispatcher call the house number.  Lynn and the deputy could hear the phone ringing inside the house so we knew we had the right place.  It was almost dark now and the deputy suggested we go to the casino down the road and get some dinner while he checked out some other places in town, since now the Sheriff’s Dept. had Steve’s picture, truck description and license plate number thanks to my photos.  The deputy said he would try to contact us later.  Lynn and I had some dinner and found a note on our car from the deputy when we returned to the car.  The deputy had checked out a few bars in town and when he called Steve’s phone again he answered.  When the deputy told him who he was and why he was looking for him, Steve told the deputy he was lying because the Sheriff’s Dept. would not send a deputy out on something like a check problem.  He accused the deputy of being someone we had told to call Steve.  The deputy told Steve, if you don’t think I am real I can come meet you right now.  Steve declined and hung up.  The deputy assured us that since they now knew Steve’s truck and what he looked like and the other deputies in that area would be watching for him.

We drove back to Minden and to the Sheriff’s Dept. to thank Sgt. Hill again for his help with the situation.  He told us, Steve had made this personal now by calling them liars and refusing to meet with the deputy.  He said he would be in touch.  It was close to 11 p.m. now and we headed back to Sacramento.  We arrived home around 1:30 a.m. exhausted from the day but we knew we had worked every possible angle that we could.

We learned that the following Monday afternoon Steve had agreed to meet with one of the deputies at a coffee shop.  Steve did not show up for the meeting.  At that point the Sheriff’s Dept. contacted Steve and told him that if he did not return our cashier’s check for $16,500.00 by that Friday, they would be filing charges of fraud against him.  He promised he would mail the check by that Friday.  That weekend was Labor Day and no mail would be delivered on Monday.  We anxiously awaited the arrival of the mail on Tuesday and sure enough the certified check for $16.500.00 was in our mailbox.  I immediately took the check and deposited into the park’s bank account.  I call our bosses and gave them the good news.  Julian said he never expected to ever see that money again.  I told him we had made every effort we could to make sure we did get the money back.

A few months later the fellow who had recommended Steve to us, called to tell us how Steve had recently bilked money out of him as well.  No good deed goes unpunished.

The moral of this story is, never give someone a cashier’s check for $16,500.00 to bid on a mobile home at an auction unless you are standing right beside the guy at the auction.