If you felt like you'd been ripped off, how far would you go to get your money back? For one North Texan, it was a year-long battle and a call to the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit.
Cedar Hill resident Tony Ross paid fence builder Wes Ross (no relation) of Ross Fencing in September 2014. Tony Ross says he paid half the money down, but Wes Ross never returned to do the work. But Tony Ross didn't quit. He called his local police, the Ellis County Sheriff's Office, the Better Business Bureau, as well as NBC 5.
NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit first exposed consumer complaints about Ross Fencing in May. Four months later, the Ross Fencing sign along Highway 67 in Midlothian was gone, replaced with a sign for an electronics repair shop owned by Wes Ross's father.
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When NBC 5 Consumer Specialist Deanna Dewberry dropped by the business to ask about Wes Ross, his father said, "Y'all run him out of business, so have a good day." He then slammed the door in Dewberry's face.
The next day, Tony Ross got a call from Wes Ross.
"He's calling me asking me to stop your attention to him coming by his father's place of business, that he's going to get me my money back," said Tony Ross. Days later, Wes Ross appeared, holding a cashier's check for $3,000.
"I believe it was because of you guys that I actually got the money back," said Tony Ross.
It could also be because he didn't want to go back to jail. In August, Ellis County sheriff's deputies arrested Wes Ross on multiple counts of theft. He bonded out the same day. He then paid back people whose cases had landed him behind bars. Ellis County sheriff's authorities confirm those customers signed affidavits of non-prosecution, so authorities dropped criminal charges against Wes Ross.
"Just paying back some of the customers shouldn't be enough," said Tony Ross. "There should be some record of his crime."
There are other customers who say they are still owed money. Frisco resident Chris Brooks said he paid Wes Ross more than $2,600. Debbie Cannaday, of Frisco, says she paid him almost $600 and her mother, Amy George, paid him $1,500. Doug and Debbie Cuppett, of Burleson, said they lost more than $1,400 to him. And Ellis County sheriff's deputies confirm they're investigating another case in which a customer said he paid Wes Ross up front but he didn't finish the work.
Tony Ross advises others who fall prey to contractors who fail to do the work to reach out to police.
"Continue to pursue it as a criminal matter simply because it's plain and simple – he's stealing from you," said Tony Ross.
"I was never out to steal people's money," Wes Ross told NBC 5. "I'm trying to clear my name. I don't want to be labeled a bad guy."
He promised to send everyone a cashier's check on Friday, Sept. 25.
Before you hire a contractor, the Federal Trade Commission has this advice:
- Get several bids.
- Research your chosen contractor with the Better Business Bureau and trusted online reviews.
- Ask for a list of references.
- Limit your down payment.
- And never pay with cash.