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Tornado Masters Court Hearing; Money Recovered for Victims

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The court appointed receiver gives a report on the money recovered from the company in Judge Dennis O'Dell's courtroom.

There are new developments in the case involving Tornado Masters. The company was accused of shoddy workmanship and exaggerated claims regarding its tornado shelters.

During Friday’s hearing at the Madison County Courthouse, the court appointed receiver presented a report showing how much money was recovered from Tornado Masters and its affiliate Safe Steel, Inc. It’s only a fraction of what’s owed to creditors, former employees and customers.

The claims totaled more than a million dollars. In Judge Dennis O’Dell’s courtroom, attorney Bill Gibbons explained how he collected about $120,000 from the company. According to Gibbons, claimants can expect to get about seven percent of their investment back.

Approximately twenty thousand dollars would go to tax payments and wages for former employees.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office, which shut down the company in April, didn’t collect any fees in this case. Gibbons decreased the charges for his legal work to $20,000 to allow more money to go to the victims, but says he wishes more could have been done.

“It’s a very upsetting time to know that all we’re going to be able to give back to them is seven cents on the dollar in the end,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons says the recovered money came from liquidating bank accounts and the sale of company equipment, vehicles and steel.

The president of Tornado Masters, Les Holt, was not at Friday’s hearing. There was no attorney representing him either. Holt has always disputed the allegations and said the shelters are safe.

John and Karen Philbrick, of Phil Campbell, purchased a shelter from Tornado Masters in June of 2010. They attended Friday’s hearing. After it was over, they said they’re ready for this ordeal to end.

“Glad it’s over,” said Karen Philbrick. “We wish we could have gotten more out of Tornado Masters.”

The Philbricks say they’re grateful to get some of their money back.

“There are a lot of people who didn’t even get a shelter,” said John Philbrick. “At least we did get a shelter. It wasn’t installed properly, but it is now.”

Judge O’Dell says he’s taking the report under advisement and will issue a final ruling at a later date.