Minnesota Attorney General takes action against company exposed by KARE 11 Investigation
December 19, 2016 – In a 19-page complaint filed in Hennepin County, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson accused Alpine Fence Company, LLC, and owner Chad Thompson of Minneapolis, with deceptive, fraudulent and unlawful business practices.
“We filed a lawsuit against the company and the owner for misleading people,” said Swanson. “Holding out that he was affiliated with the Better Business Bureau when he wasn’t, telling people he would install fences when he didn’t, and then refusing to pay people their money back.”
Alpine Fence and Chad Thompson were the subject of a KARE 11 undercover investigation launched in March, 2016.
KARE 11 began investigating Alpine Fence after receiving complaints from several of the company’s customers who claimed they’d been misled and ripped off.
“He needs to stop it,” a clearly frustrated David Plante of Minneapolis told KARE 11. He detailed how months after month passed after he signed a contract with Alpine in 2015, but his fence was never built.
“I signed the contract in mid-May and after a number of reschedules and very little communication I decided in early August, after he missed a number of deadlines, to cancel the contract,” Plante explained. “At which point he was very quick to get back to me and let me know that if I canceled the contract it would be subject to a 50% restocking fee.”
Plante still does not have a fence built and says to date he has not received any refund of his $2,597 upfront deposit, in spite of an assurance from Alpine owner Chad Thompson. “He said he would refund 50% of my deposit then, and the rest of it would be pending whether his supplier was able to cancel the order and not have a restocking fee,” Plante said. “I haven’t heard a word about the supplier, haven’t seen any of the refund whatsoever. And so here I am waiting!”
When Plante asked KARE 11 to investigate back in March, a number of concerning discrepancies about Alpine Fence Company quickly emerged.
Alpine’s website had a large Better Business Bureau logo on and claimed Alpine was BBB accredited.
The same claim was made on Alpine’s contracts and business cards, but KARE 11 found that’s not true. The BBB’s website showed Alpine is “not accredited.” There is also an alert posted about the “F” rated business for using the BBB logo without authorization
Joe Pavelko of Chanhassen told KARE 11 that Alpine’s claim of BBB accreditation tricked them into a false sense of security. “False advertising!” Pavelko said. “Obviously if we had of known that he wasn’t part of the BBB we wouldn’t have hired him.”
Like other customers, Pavelko says months passed with no work being done after he hired Alpine in August, 2015. “And August went by with no work being done.” he said. “September, October, November went by with no work being done and really no communication whatsoever.”
Pavelko had paid Alpine an upfront deposit of more than $6,000. He claims that when he informed Chad Thompson of Alpine that he wanted to cancel his contract and get his deposit back, he was pointed to fine print in his contract that states if the customer cancels for any reason Alpine gets to keep half the deposit.
“He gets the deposit down, does no work whatsoever and then blames it on weather or just doesn’t even return a phone call until people want to cancel because no good or service has been given to the customer,” Pavelko fumes. “And then he tries to keep 50% of the deposit for doing nothing. For doing absolutely nothing. And tries to rely on the contract to keep that money!”
Pavelko took Alpine and its owner to court and won a summary judgement for the return of his full refund, but has struggled to collect from Alpine.
After hearing multiple customer’s stories of paying Alpine for work and not getting a fence or full refund, KARE 11 decided to go undercover. We wanted to see for ourselves if Alpine Fence would give us an honest sales pitch.
We invited Alpine to provide us with a quote on a fencing project at a Saint Paul home where we had placed hidden cameras.
Chad Thompson responded and KARE 11 investigative reporter A.J. Lagoe questioned Thompson as the contractor began measuring the yard.
Lagoe: “Tell me a little bit about your company.”
Thompson: “Ok, Alpine Fence, I started it myself in 1997. I’m the only owner… and our work is guaranteed for life.”
Lagoe: “I wanted to make sure I was dealing with license and insured –”
Thompson: “Yup, licensed and insured.”
Lagoe: “So, you’re good to go for here?”
Thompson: “Licensed, bonded and insured.”
The City of Saint Paul requires fence contractors to hold a city license, but records show Saint Paul suspended Alpine’s license in 2008 for failure to provide proof of insurance.
Lagoe: “Do you do a lot here in Saint Paul?”
Thompson: “Less here. It’s more on the west side, ok, but I’ve done a lot of projects here. It’s probably 70/30.”
In Minnesota, fence contractors are not required to have a state license. However, Thompson claimed Alpine is licensed. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has no record of Alpine Fence or its owner Chad Thompson holding a license of any kind.
The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State showed Alpine’s business registration has been “inactive” since 2013. That means technically the company is not legally allowed to do business anywhere in Minnesota.
And what about Alpine’s BBB claims? As Thompson measure the yard, Lagoe also asked him if he was affiliated with the BBB. He responded “Yeah,” while nodding his head in the affirmative.
After hearing Thompson make those claims, Lagoe told the contractor he was talking to a reporter and brought a camera into full view.
“I do have to tell you I’m a reporter with KARE 11 and we got some questions for you because we’ve heard from a number of customers that you’re taking their money and not building a fence,” said Lagoe.
“That’s not true. It’s not true.” Thompson replied as he quickly grabbed his equipment and rushed back to his car.
“How come you told me you’re BBB certified when you’re not?” asked Lagoe. Thompson slammed his door and drove away without replying.
Now, after a lengthy investigation, the state is taking action to stop Thompson and his company.
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson sat down with KARE 11 to discuss the lawsuit she’s has filed against Alpine Fence.
Lagoe: “According to the complaint that you filed, you believe there were actual illegalities in this case?”
Swanson: “We do. We believe he’s violated the consumer fraud laws, the deceptive trade practices laws. We have laws on the books that basically say don’t lie to consumers when you’re doing business with them.”
Lagoe: “Your complaint uses some pretty strong language: deceptive, fraudulent unlawful. That’s what you found?”
Thompson now has 20 days to reply to the Attorney General’s lawsuit.
KARE 11 repeatedly offered Thompson the opportunity to do a scheduled interview and explain his side of the story. He refused, but in both phone calls and text messages maintained his claims of BBB Accreditation and that Alpine Fence is licensed and insured. To date no proof has been provided.
Thompson claimed on Alpine’s website and also while on hidden camera that his company has received numerous “Best of Minneapolis” awards. When asked about the source of those awards he responded they were from “BESTOFMINNEAPOLIS.COM.”
KARE 11 can find no record of that website. Just one more aspect of Alpine Fence Company that has customers screaming foul. “It actually makes we want to go buy an award for myself that makes me the best of Minneapolis,” said David Plante.
Swanson is asking a judge to award relief that includes repayment for the victims and civil penalties.
“We’d like to see people paid back. We’d like to see him fined. We would like to see enjoined from being able to do this to other people,” Swanson said.
“In this case we’ve sued him individually, not just the company,” she said. “We’ve sued him and we want to get a judgement against him. He was the perpetrator of this ruse.”
By A.J. Lagoe and Steve Eckert, KARE
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