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DENVER — When Contact7 went looking for Larry Perez at his food truck business in Henderson, the first person they found was not one of his employees.
"Do you work here, too?" Theresa Marchetta asked.
"Oh, no, I'm trying to get my truck fixed," said a customer who did not want to be identified.
"Have you had a hard time here?" Marchetta said.
"Yes," the customer said.
Contact7 found he is one of many frustrated and dissatisfied customers of Denver Custom Food Trucks.
"Basically I was left with a truck with a bunch of huge holes in it," said Adam Hjermstad.
"There was a ladder here. There was a nice access door that's gone," he said, showing Contact7 a truck he took back from Perez.
Hjermstad said he and a friend decided to invest in a food truck after winning a green chili competition in Wheat Ridge.
"We're both dads, and we thought it would be cool to see if anyone likes our green chili, because we think it's awesome," said Hjermstad.
They invested in retired Xcel truck and took it to Perez.
"So, it's 10-percent cheaper if you pay cash, which is a good way to bait somebody. I fell for the bait, unfortunately, and so I gave [him] the cash," said Hjermstad.
He showed Contact7 an itemized receipt that details what the finished truck will include.
It lists a griddle, burner, fryer, sandwich prep area, electric, gas, labor and more and it is signed by Larry Perez.
"It was about $20,000 total. I gave them about $7,000 -- $6,700 I think it was," said Hjermstad, "They promised they were going to do everything top to bottom, all-inclusive, full kitchen inside, a wrap on the outside. They said they would have it done in two to three weeks."
That was last November. After four months of excuses, Hjermstad went to get his truck back.
"When I found my truck it was sitting in a basically a sea of other food trucks that had been basically gutted out," he said.
Hjermstad and his wife took video. It shows the truck gutted and stripped of parts with snow visible inside and out.
The video also shows the driver's side door handle now missing and the ignition ripped out. Hjermstad said a large heater, air compressor, and exhaust fan were all missing.
He said he paid a tow truck company to come out and jump it.
"There was a huge hole right here so you could see the transmission and everything," he said, pointing to the floor of the interior.
Hjermstad did some digging and believes one reason he did not know about Perez's business history is that he has changed the name of his business.
Contact7 checked and found Perez connected with several business names on the Secretary of State's website, including Denver Custom Food Trucks, Custom Mobile Kitchen Colorado, Brothers Custom Food Trucks, Denver Restaurants Equipment and La Tapatia Mexican Food.
"I spoke first hand with people going through the same thing, people telling me they are ruined," said Hjermstad.
Contact7 also found Perez has a criminal history that includes charges of DUI and assault. He has a felony drug conviction and civil judgments and liens against him in the thousands of dollars.
There is even a pending class action suit, accusing Perez and his business partner of "blatant fraud."
"We just wanted to talk to you about a couple of things, the changing name of your business and about some of your customers who aren't real happy," Marchetta said to Perez outside his food truck business.
"What do you mean?" Perez said, pushing the microphone away.
"You took $6,700 from (Hjermstad) to fix his truck," Marchetta said.
"You guys got the wrong information then," said Perez.
"We do?" said Marchetta, "Because I saw the receipt and I also saw his truck after he got it back from you."
Perez did not want to answer Contact7's questions.
"Why do you keep changing the name of your business?" said Marchetta.
"Like I said, there's nothing I can say," said Perez.
Perez asked Contact7 to leave the property. Then he came back.
"Do you have the proves or no?" said Perez, asking Marchetta to prove he ever did business with Hjermstad. "You guys going to believe someone else just like that?"
"He has documentation. He has video," responded Marchetta. "Are you going to make it right for this guy or not? Are you going to give him his money back?"
"He got paid with equipment. Did you know that?" said Perez.
Contact7 tracked down the equipment Perez said he gave Hjermstad as payment.
It is in a scrap pile at Colorado Food Trucks & Restaurant Equipment on Brighton Blvd. in Denver.
"This is, I don't even know what it is," said manager Chris Auriemma.
"Is that worth $6,700?" asked Marchetta.
"No, and this steam table doesn't even work," said Auriemma.
"What is that worth then?" asked Marchetta.
"Scrap prices," said Auriemma.
Auriemma said the owner of his shop is helping out a lot Perez's former customers, working with them on prices and payments.
"Wow. It's beautiful" Hjermstad said, seeing his truck for the first time.
Colorado Food Trucks transformed the damaged shell Hjermstad got back from Perez into a safe, certified, food truck with all the necessities to hit the road and they finished it in five days.
"This guy saved me," said Hjermstad.
Hjermstad said he regrets paying his initial deposit in cash and hopes others will research more than just the business name before deciding to do business with a company.
Contact7 also recommends checking with the Better Business Bureau. Their accredited businesses pass stricter scrutiny and also mediate complaints.
Get at least three, written estimates for any job before deciding who you are going to do business with.
The attorney general’s office would not confirm an investigation, but sent us the following:
“We would encourage any consumer who feels they may have been a victim of fraud to file a complaint by going to www.stopfraudcolorado.gov or contact us at 1-800-222-4444.”