LeatherOne furniture tax seizure leaves buyers in limbo

LeatherOne furniture tax seizure leaves buyers in limbo

December 10th, 2010 by Brittany Cofer in News

A small tab in the back of Shirley Green's checkbook was labeled "sofa" for years until she saved enough money to buy the perfect piece of furniture for her home.

But now, nearly three months after paying $3,629.45 for a couch and two leather recliners from LeatherOne at 2100 Hamilton Place Blvd., she has nothing to show for her years of saving. When the store was seized by the state before Thanksgiving for nonpayment of Tennessee taxes, she still had not received the items she paid for on Aug. 31.

"It makes me so mad. I had a picture out of a magazine I had had for 15 years of the color I wanted," said Green, who was told the furniture would be delivered eight to 10 weeks from the time she purchased it.

Eleven weeks later, she called back and didn't get a straight answer when she asked where it was, she said. Then on Nov. 22, she discovered from news outlets that the store had been seized.

After speaking with representatives from the local Tax Enforcement Division and Community Trust and Banking Co., which now has a lien on the store's inventory and is hand-ling customer issues, Green said it looks like she won't be getting her money -- or her furniture -- anytime soon.

"The guy at the bank said, 'There is no record of your order,'" she said. "But I have a copy of where they took my money. They put the money in the bank the next day."

She isn't alone.

Bill and June Parks drove three hours from Gallatin, Tenn., on Sept. 5 to buy a sofa and recliner at LeatherOne. They took the recliner home with them that day, but were told the $2,970 sofa wouldn't arrive for eight to 10 weeks.

Jeff Pemberton spent $2,499 on a love seat and couch on Sept. 30 and was told he'd receive his purchases by Thanksgiving.

Eleanor Butler, a Chattanooga Times Free Press employee, spent $1,743.60 on two recliner swivel chairs on Nov. 6 and expected to receive them in January.

Each said the bank told them there is no record of their purchases ever having been ordered, despite their checks being cashed within days of their visit to the store.

Pemberton said he's spoken with a lawyer and now is trying to get as many others as possible to come forward so he can file a lawsuit against the store's owners, Chuck and Connie Rudwall. He and Bill Parks also filed fraud charges with the Chattanooga Police Department to investigate Chuck Rudwall, they said.

The Rudwalls opened their first LeatherOne store in Chattanooga in 2004 and then two more in the Nashville area.

As of Thursday, phone numbers at all three stores were disconnected.

Efforts to contact the Rudwalls have been unsuccessful since their Chattanooga store was seized. Representatives from the Tennessee Department of Revenue and Community Trust and Banking Co. declined to comment, stating that by law all taxpayer information is confidential.

Revenue Department spokeswoman Sara Jo Houghland said that although she couldn't discuss the specifics of any individual case, any business seized by the state has at least 90 days' notice.

Parks said he and his wife gave away their sofa when they thought they had a new one on the way, and have since bought another.

The extra money they had to spend close to the holidays is putting a pinch in their spending now.

"We're not going to do some stuff in December we'd planned on doing," he said. "Some people are not getting some things we thought we was going to get them. That's $3,000 out of our savings is what it is. It was a pretty good lick, especially this time of year."

Contact staff writer Brittany Cofer at bcofer@times freepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.