Reporting Kurtis Ming
A wheelchair van business took tens of thousands from people with disabilities, but never delivered the vans. The company closed its doors, but a Call Kurtis investigation found the same people operating elsewhere.
“My brother’s been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy since age six,” said Fred Szlachciuk, of Folsom.
His brother, Stan is confined to a wheelchair and on a ventilator. He needs a special van with a wheelchair ramp to get around.
“It allows him to do what we take for granted; go to a movie,” said Fred.
With their current vehicle on its last leg, in April, they put nearly $27,000 down for a new one. But then the company, Driving Specialties in Vallejo quit returning their calls and shut down.
“I can’t understand how can they do that. He seemed so nice,” said Gloria Szlachciuk, Stan and Fred’s mother.
Some are out even more money. Joyce Henry of Fresno spent $53,000 on a van that was supposed to be fitted with a special lift. She bought it for her daughter who lives with cerebral palsy.
“If I paid the money up front, he’d give me a $3,000 discount. That’s why I did it,” said Henry.
CBS13 has learned at least nine families in cities up and down the state say they too were victimized out of more than $203,000.
After Driving Specialties owner David John ignored our calls, our producer stopped by the business running into him.
“This office is closing,” said John.
He didn’t have anything to say about his customers’ vans or possible refunds. But then our investigation uncovered David John is still in business, operating a Driving Specialties location in Fresno. The website shows wheelchair accessible vehicles for sale. So we made the drive to Fresno.
Kurtis: “Hi David, Kurtis Ming from Channel 13. How are you? It’s my understanding you’re still selling vans, is that right?
Kurtis: “You’re not selling them?”
John claims they only make repairs at the Fresno location. But we wanted to know about the the Szlachciuks’ and Joyce Henry’s new vans. John said there are no vans and the money is gone.
John: “We never sent the money to the manufacturer, we never did.”
Kurtis: “You took the money and used it for something else?”
John: “I cannot tell you where exactly the money went.”
Kurtis: “But if you took the money and it didn’t go to the manufacturer, you took the money and used it for something else.”
John: “The money did not go to the manufacturer, absolutely.”
Blaming financial problems, he says he stopped selling vans in July and consolidated to his Fresno repair facility. But he refuses to say exactly how many more families are still owed vehicles.
“I’m not at liberty right now, nor will I go through our accounting information with you,” said John.
Perhaps he’ll be more willing to share with state investigators.
“We do have an investigation looking into both locations,” said the DMV’s Mike Marando.
He said taking money for vehicles you know you can’t deliver is a crime in California.
“Well, it’s a felony,” said Marando.
Kurtis: “Did you know you may not have been able to deliver these vans when you took the money?
But he says he’s going to fight to keep his business open to bring in money even if it’s $500 at a time to make it right.
“If there’s a way that I can personally do anything, I will work towards making that happen,” said John.
But he can’t promise these families what they want to hear.
“It’s been stressful,” said Gloria.
The Szlachciuks say they may be forced to dig deeper into their own pockets to buy another van elsewhere.
“My retirement’s all going to that,” said Gloria.
And without new wheelchair accessible vans, Gloria and Joyce’s kids may be forced to give up the simple trips we take for granted.
“I don’t want him to rip someone else off to get my van, but I do want my van,” said Henry.
The state requires dealers to have a bond of $50,000 to help customers in these types of situations. Right now the claims against Driving Specialties’ bond total more than $203,000.
Driving Specialties in Vallejo had a license to sell vehicles up until august, but the DMV says they’ve never had a license for the Fresno location, where Henry bought her van.
The penalty for selling vehicles without a license is a misdemeanor, but could result in arrest.
We should note, there is a Driving Specialties of Sacramento, which is unaffiliated with the company in our story.