COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A laptop is likely one of the most important devices you own in your home. When it breaks, it can feel like your access to the digital world is permanently cut.
But a company in Columbia, Authorized Laptop Repair, claims to ensure that your portable CPU will be back to you in just a few days for an affordable price.
Robert Tom of Nashville saw an advertisement from the company in the phonebook. He shipped two of his busted computers to Columbia.
"They were overheating, so he just had to change something out on the board," said Tom.
Tom told us he waited longer than the three days the ad said it would take for fixes. After a week, he started calling.
"I made payment to the gentleman, and kept on calling him and calling him, never answering the phone," said Tom.
That was in January. Tom still doesn't have his computers, and he's not alone. People from across the United States have stories just like his.
We started an investigation into Authorized Laptop Repair. We uncovered the owner, Robert Pachally, Jr. has been in the laptop repair business for years. Using court records, we were able to link him six computer repair business in the city, and track him to this location on Broad River Road.
Those records also showed Pachally has been sued at least eight times. The court has ordered him to pay more than $35,000 in restitution. Those cases include not paying employees like Lisa Freeman. She says she was one of three people working for Pachally earlier this year, and says he still owes her money.
"He gave me $96 and gave the other two $100, and he said that we should get the rest Monday," said Freeman.
Pachally's ex-employee says she was supposed to be making between $500 and $600.
Freeman's job at the office was to answer the phone. Of the calls she picked up, she says dozens were people complaining, many simply wanting their computers back.
"I've had a handful of people tell me that their laptop has been there for a year and a half, maybe two years, six months, four months," said Freeman.
Freeman says Pachally knew about the phone calls because she would tell him and they would just go ignored.
"I'm having to lie to these people all the time," said Freeman. "He knows the numbers. He would say, 'That's so and so, tell them I'm not in the office at the moment. Tell them I'm working on their computer and it will be out soon.'"
Ten other former employees have filed complaints against Pachally with the state of South Carolina, resulting in more the $2,000 in fines.
With all the information we gathered, we went to Authorized Laptop Repair to get Pachally's side of the story. While we waiting for the owner to get off the phone, we spotted boxes of national phone books in the lobby, and dozens of computers around the business.
So what would Pachally have to say about his business? Not much.
"I don't have anything to say on camera," said Pachally.
Pachally told us to leave, and then called the Richland County Sheriff's Department. He later called us and said that he didn't owe any employees any money and would provide a three ring binder of proof that he hadn't done anything wrong.
Four days later, we received a nine-page packet with a warning that we "study it carefully."
We did, finding receipts where Pachally claims Robert Tom's card was declined six times in May and June. Tom says that's correct, but gave us a copy of a bank statement which shows he had plenty of money to cover the charges in January when he sent Pachally his computer, and then was forced to cancel payment because he didn't get it back.
Tom says he's lost hope in getting his computers back.
However, Pachally is in trouble with the law. The Columbia Police Department has a case against him.
"It snowballed and got bigger and bigger, multiple complaints just steadily coming in," said CPD investigator Kimberly Wise-Lewis.
In short, Wise-Lewis says the case against Pachally can be summed up very simply.
"I wouldn't send my computer to him," said Wise-Lewis.