A Tarrant County man who operated a popular banquet hall has been arrested on charges he altered a fire inspection report as an excuse to cancel weddings, quinceañeras, and other large events that he actually double booked.
In fact, he passed the fire inspection but changed the document to make it look like he failed, according to the complaint.
Jose Rios, 52, of Forest Hill, was arrested by the Tarrant County Fire Marshal on three counts of tampering with a government document – specifically a fire inspection form.
The hall, St. Joseph, in the 4000 block of Rendon Road, is owned by a Vietnamese Catholic church.
Rios and his attorney, John Nation, of Dallas, could not be reached for comment.
The criminal investigation by the Tarrant County Fire Marshal began after a victim, Lisa Flores, went to the marshal and wanted to know why her wedding was canceled.
But one day before her wedding, Flores said Rios canceled, claiming he had failed a fire inspection and he even showed her the paperwork.
The original fire inspection form said simply: "OK, No recommendation."
But the altered form included violations like "No fire system" and "No smoke detectors," according to the complaint.
And to the words, "No recommendation," a handwritten phrase was added: "to continue to make any party until problem is resolved."
"I didn't know what to think,” Flores said. “Of course I believed him because he showed up a day before, showing me that document with his signature and the signature of the fire marshal. I had no choice but to believe it."
Attorney Steven Wood said he represents seven families whose events were canceled at the last minute by Rios.
"He has engaged in a pattern where he double (books) or some cases triple books the date of the event. And these events are massive events,” Wood said. "When they're told their event is canceled, they ask for their money back and in some cases, he's given money back but in most cases, he hasn't.”
Wood said his clients have lost more than $105,000 directly and are seeking total damages of more than $1 million.
Tarrant County Deputy Fire Marshal Keith Ebel is heading the investigation.
"I started looking into it and realized this is a big case,” Ebel said. "It's horrible what this guy's done to people. He's taken advantage of them.”
Investigators are searching for more victims.
"It was like peeling an onion. I mean it was one layer after another and there was like another layer and another layer,” Ebel said. “And the layers still haven't been peeled through. We know we have other victims out there. We're just trying to get them to come forward."
Flores said Rios pointed her to another venue on Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth which wasn't nearly as nice -- and kept her $14,000.
"It's definitely not what we dreamed of and paid for,” Flores said. "He has no heart."
After his arrest earlier this month, the church severed ties to Rios, church lawyer Lu Pham said.
Pham said Rios was not an employee of the church but that he leased the facility and, in turn, rented it out to others.
Pham said the church is trying to reach out to victims who still have events scheduled and will try to make good on them.
The fire marshal and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s office have set up a hotline for possible victims to call, 817-884-1305, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Some of the victims may be undocumented immigrants but Ebel said investigators don’t care about their immigration status.