NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- “I'm a bomb tech, so I'm good at dealing with stress, but it's infuriating that he took my money and there's no recourse for it,” said Zach Hernandez, who lost so much money to a North Kansas City company he’s been forced to move from his apartment in San Diego to a more affordable life in Texas.
Hernandez, an Army veteran who did three tours in Iraq, paid more than $120,000 to Chalmers Automotive for a customized Mercedes Sprinter van.
Hernandez, who left the Army this past spring, planned to fulfill a childhood dream and use the van to travel the United States.
But that’s not what happened.
“The same day I sent (Chalmers) the money, they said we have the chassis,” Hernandez said. But the more questions he asked, the more evasive the staff at Chalmers Automotive became.
“I wanted my title to make sure they bought the van,” Hernandez. “There was just silence.”
Hernandez isn’t the only upset Chalmers customer who talked to FOX 4 Problem Solvers. Texas musician Peter Dearing used Chalmers Automotive as a broker to sell an older model van he had been given by a church member and was using to travel and preform at church conferences across the country.
“They did sell it,” Dearing said. “They did receive the funds for it and never gave me the funds.”
When Chalmers failed to come up with the money, it promised to give him another van instead. But he said the one Chalmers delivered wasn’t close to what he had been promised. He turned it down and said he would wait for his missing money. It never came. He’s out $66,000.
“They are basically living off of stolen money from hard-working people that have trusted them to provide a service,” Dearing said.
Then there’s an Oregon couple who paid Chalmers Automotive $60,000 to retrofit a Sprinter Van to meet the special needs of their 7-year-old daughter Carly who has Cerebral Palsy. The work was never done.
The man behind all these broken promises? Jack Chalmers.
He stars in his internet commercials and is named in multiple lawsuits which accuse his company of stealing and defrauding customers out of more than $2 million by operating an elaborate Ponzi scheme – where he would use money from a new customer’s order to pay for older orders he didn’t have enough money to complete.
In July, the same month Hernandez should have received his van, Chalmers Automotive filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
FOX 4 Problem Solvers paid multiple visits to the North Kansas City company to try and get answers. We were repeatedly rebuffed. The last time Problem Solvers visited, the people inside the office hid behind their cubicles.
Although Chalmers never talked to us, he did email us saying customers’ problems would be worked out in bankruptcy court. But Chalmers admitted to a bankruptcy judge – in an audio tape obtained by FOX 4 Problem Solvers – exactly what all his customers suspected. He’d been lying to them.
“I wasn't forthcoming with the facts,” Chalmers told the judge. “I've got no money. We make excuses to try and drag (a job) out. I'm grabbing this guy's money giving it to (another guy). It got really, really bad.”
Despite Chalmers Automotive’s financial problems, Jack Chalmers never missed paying himself. According to court filings, he was paid $156,000 a year. His son made about $94,000. Jack Chalmers wife took him about $42,000.
“He lived like a millionaire,” said Robert Nichols who worked three years for Chalmers Automotive before quitting about a year ago. By the time he left, Nichols said the company had become so bad at paying its bills that suppliers would only deal in cash.
But Nichols said Chalmers kept living like a high roller – something his employees couldn’t help but notice.
“To the employees (it was like) what do you mean he's got the money to buy a new truck? He can’t meet payroll,” Nichols said.
While in court, Chalmers had the gall to blame his bankruptcy on his customers. He told the judge he was forced into it because they kept suing him.
"There's no mercy in this world,” Chalmers said. “They could care less.”
But the bankruptcy judge wasn’t sympathetic to Chalmers Automotive. In October she froze the company’s bank accounts and allowed a bank to foreclose on its assets. Plus, she dismissed its bankruptcy filing, allowing lawsuits against the company to proceed.
It’s unlikely most victims will ever see a dime.
Donations are being collected to help victims. The link is here: