FORT PAYNE, Ala. (WHNT) - A Fort Payne store owner wrote us about a problem collecting a debt. Chris Meacham says he and his wife both bought small ads that were to appear on the menu at a local restaurant. But the menu was never published and Meacham says he can't get his money back. So WHNT News 19 is Taking Action to find out why.
Chris and his wife operate separate businesses in Fort Payne. They bought the ads from Southeast Associated Services in an effort to drive more customers to their stores. Turns out, they likely got ripped off.
Chris Meacham owns and operates the Cell Phone Center on Gault Avenue in Fort Payne. His wife operates the boutique next door. He says it seemed like a good idea at the time to purchase ads promoting both businesses that would appear on the menu at a popular family restaurant in the area. So he shelled out almost $800 for the ads. That was over a year ago. The menu was never printed, the ads were never published, and Meacham has been unable to get his money back.
"Every time I try to call him from the same number, he won't answer anymore. I've tried every way that I can to get in touch with the guy, the Better Business Bureau, he's just dodging them all," Meacham explained.
The company that sold him the ads is Southeast Associated Services in Albertville. The address on the contract is actually the owner's home address, Louie Schrimsher.
So we visited Mr. Schrimsher's home and he agreed to talk with us off-camera. He says he's had health issues for a couple of months, but those ads were sold well over a year ago. Scrimsher says he also had problems with the people who were doing his layout for him. He also told us if the merchants he owes money to continue to press, he'll simply file bankruptcy.
We checked and found Schrimsher is no stranger to the court system, he has been sued repeatedly for bad debts and for other ads that he sold and never published. Meacham checked and found it would cost almost $90 to file a lawsuit in small claims court, but he was also told even if he won, there was no guarantee he'd ever get any of the money Schrimsher owes him.
We contacted Athens attorney R. Garry Clem for his thoughts on how the merchants might deal with problems like this.
"If it's just one person, you've got a contract dispute, then Small Claims is the way you want to go to try to get your money back or get a lien against them, but the chances of getting your money back are not very good. But on the other hand, if it's a criminal matter where there have been multiple people that have been defrauded or conned, then there could be remedies there where the person could be convicted," Clem explained.
"Just like taking my money and saying ha, ha, I got 'cha and running. It's tough to swallow. It's been an on-going thing for a year now," Meacham says.
He has filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, but Schrimsher simply never responded. The Better Business Bureau has numerous unresolved complaints on file against the company. In fact, they give him an "F" rating and there's an alert about the business on their website.
Realistically, the prospects of Meacham getting his money back don't look so good, but he wanted to go ahead and do the story in order to warn other merchants about the company. Meanwhile, we're forwarding the information we've gathered to the District Attorney in DeKalb County for his staff to check to see if criminal charges would be appropriate. We'll let you know.