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Biden’s office files consumer fraud case against owner of New Castle County furniture store

Posted On: Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Categories: Consumer Protection Department of Justice Fraud Press Releases

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23-count complaint alleges The Amish Mill failed to deliver customer purchases and charged fees when customers complained
 
Wilmington – Attorney General Beau Biden announced today that his office has filed a consumer fraud case and issued a Cease and Desist Order against The Amish Mill, a furniture store located on Greenbank Road in the Prices Corner area of New Castle County, and its owner Michael D. Wharton.
 
            Earlier this year, as a result of multiple complaints received directly from consumers, and from additional complaints referred to it by the Delaware Better Business Bureau, Biden’s Consumer Protection Unit opened an investigation into the business.  Specifically, consumers complained that over the past year the business made verbal representations about the delivery timeframe for items ordered and then failed to deliver the items as promised.  These consumers also complained that the business charged customers undisclosed fees of $5.99 per phone call when they inquired about delayed deliveries, charged an undisclosed fee of $85 for complaining to the Better Business Bureau or posting a bad review online, and cancelled orders without refunding payments to customers.
 
As a result of its investigation, on August 30, 2013 the Consumer Protection Unit filed an administrative Complaint alleging 23 counts of consumer fraud against The Amish Mill and its owner. The same day Biden’s office issued a temporary Cease and Desist Order prohibiting The Amish Mill and its owner from engaging in fraudulent conduct.  
 
“We’re acting to protect consumers by ensuring they get what they pay for and to hold this business to account for its obligation to provide the products it sold and promised to deliver,” Biden said today.
 
Yesterday the Consumer Protection Unit conducted a hearing seeking to extend the temporary Cease and Desist Order until a final hearing is held this fall on its 23-count complaint.  Following the hearing, an independent hearing officer who presided over the proceeding extended the Order until a final hearing takes place, which is expected to occur within the next 60 days.  During yesterday’s hearing, eight witnesses testified to The Amish Mill’s business practices as they experienced them when ordering custom furniture.  The testimony included: that Wharton assessed an undisclosed fee of $5.99 per call for customers calling him to inquire about the status of their order; that he represented to customers that their orders would be delivered in a certain amount of time yet repeated failed to deliver the items, sometimes in excess of a year; and that he would cancel customer orders and not return their deposits.
 
            “Better Business Bureau Serving Delaware is pleased that it could assist the Attorney General’s Office in this investigation,” said Delaware Better Business Bureau President Christine R. Sauers.  “We have a long history of unanswered and unresolved complaints against the Amish Mill and this Cease and Desist Order will help protect consumers and force the business to change their practices.”
 
Biden’s August 30 Cease and Desist Order prohibits Wharton and The Amish Mill from:
-          imposing or threatening to impose additional fees, including attorneys fees, onto the price of purchase orders of customers that make complaints about their business practices to the Better Business Bureau;
-          imposing or threatening to impose additional fees, including attorneys fees, onto the price of purchase orders of customers that post negative reviews regarding their business practices on the internet;
-          imposing or threatening to impose fees for customers contacting them in connection with complaints about their services, or for any other reason, unless the exact amount of such fees are clearly and prominently disclosed on the customer’s purchase orders; Respondents are required to obtain the customer’s signature beside such disclosures on their purchase orders;
-          imposing restocking fees unless the exact amount of such fees are clearly and prominently disclosed on the customer’s purchase orders; Respondents are required to obtain the customer’s signature beside such disclosures on their purchase orders;
-          unilaterally increasing the price of repairing customer property after agreeing to repair an item for an identified price;
-          holding customer goods and refusing to return such goods until such customer agrees to a price increase they unilaterally impose after identifying an agreed-to price for any repair or other service;
-          retaining monies paid by customers for any item they failed to deliver within the timeframe promised; upon their failure to deliver a customer’s contracted-for item in the timeframe promised, they must promptly refund any payment received from that customer upon request by such customer; and
-          failing to refund in full any deposit money by any customer for any reason unless the purchase order clearly and prominently displays the circumstances under which the deposit may be retained; Respondents are required to obtain their customer’s signature beside such disclosures on their purchase orders.
 
Delaware law allows the Consumer Protection Unit to issue orders demanding individuals or companies cease unlawful businesses practices where there is perceived an immediate threat to the public interest.  Violation of any Cease and Desist Order is punishable by administrative penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.
 
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