COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Estate sales -- they usually involve unpleasant circumstances for a family.
But for months now, clients of a Columbia-based estate sales company have been accusing its owner of adding to their distress.
Tony Hendon and his business, Estate Sale Guys, is headquartered on Columbia's Hampton Street. It claims to be "South Carolina's Premier Estate Sale Company."
But retired trauma surgeon Woody Barefoot has a much different description of the firm and its owner.
"I think people like Mr. Hendon who are unethical in their business dealings particularly with elderly people, they need to be shut down and put out of business," Barefoot said.
Barefoot is one of the latest clients of Estate Sale Guys to take action for what he and other complainants say are deceptive, even fraudulent, practices.
Allegations have led to multiple lawsuits accusing Hendon of agreeing to conduct sales, then refusing to turn over the proceeds while avoiding customers.
Barefoot said in May 2013, and on a friend's advice, he hired Hendon to sell off his aunt's belongings after she developed dementia and had to be moved into assisted living.
"Based on this individual's recommendation, I didn't investigate Mr. Hendon further," Barefoot said. "I assumed he was legitimate. Mr. Hendon came and took the things that he wanted and he never sent me a copy of the contract. I asked him for an inventory of what he took although I know what he took. He never sent me an inventory. He told me that he would send a check by July. I never got the check."
That check, Barefoot said was more than two years overdue and should have been for about $13,000.
Other customers describe a similar pattern.
A woman now living in Florida said Hendon sold items from her home in Charleston last December, agreeing to turn over proceeds within two weeks.
More than 73 days later, with no check delivered, she sued him.
A man in York County contracted with Estate Sale Guys to sell property from his father's home in Lugoff.
That lawsuit said the sale in January grossed more than $26,000 and minus Hendon's fee, should have netted $15,000.
As of July the plaintiff said they have received no proceeds.
And Hendon client James Tharp sued in March, 109 days after a sale that was supposed to produce a written summary of what was sold and a net profit of $97,000 within two weeks.
The suit said Tharp never got the check and was unable to contact Hendon, despite calls, text messages and a personal visit to the office on Hampton Street.
Complaints haven't stopped Hendon from holding more sales.
We wanted to get his side and we tried at one of the company's latest events at a home in Sumter.
But by the time we reached him at the checkout area in the back yard, Tony Hendon was on the phone to his lawyer.
The current complaints against Hendon and his company are civil cases.
But sources say city and county law enforcement have been investigating additional claims from than a dozen people, accusations that could lead to criminal charges.
The state Department of Consumer Affairs said anyone in need of estate sales service should do some homework first.
"Know the worth of the items that you're going to sell, especially if it's a lot of items or if you are you know, in a time of bereavement and you just want to get through the process," said Juliana Harris with the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs. "You want to ensure that you know how much those items are worth. You also want to make sure that an estate sale company is the right avenue to sell your stuff. If its memorabilia, collectibles or jewelry or something of that nature, it might be better sold through a specialty seller."
In documents attached to those lawsuits, Hendon's attorney denies most of the claims.
Hendon has faced similar accusations before when he ran a company called Estate Liquidators with a partner and ended up with an F rating from the Better Business Bureau.
The Fifth Circuit Solicitor's office has already assigned a prosecutor to review new cases as they are submitted by the Richland County Sheriff's Department and Columbia police.