By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
An incident report filed with the Killeen Police Department on July 17 could explain how customer records and receipts from a local business ended up in a shopping cart next to a trash bin miles across town.
A report filed by Take Over Payment Services, 5209 E. Veterans Memorial Blvd., claims the business was vandalized and burglarized.
At about 11:20 a.m. July 17, an employee, who was not identified in the report, called the police department and said that someone had broken the front glass door and had stolen customer files, a cash box, a desktop computer, a television, a security monitor, containers with paperwork and other office equipment.
On July 19, an anonymous caller to the KCEN-TV, Channel 6 news station advised reporters to check a trash bin behind Family Dollar on Fort Hood Street in Killeen. There, reporters found a shopping cart with two boxes of records and receipts belonging to TOPS. They called police.
The incident report on the burglary at TOPS states that customer files and containers with paperwork were recovered, though it could not be confirmed that those were the same items reported stolen.
Meanwhile, the police department continues to investigate other unrelated incidents that could point to fraudulent activity by TOPS.
Lt. Mike Click, a KPD spokesman, said he could not divulge too many details as the investigation is ongoing.
As of this week, the police department has had at least five incident reports filed claiming theft by fraud. Each person pointed to TOPS' address as the location of the theft.
"We're accepting cases," Click said.
Meanwhile, the police department is researching if and how it can prosecute the company.
"There's a lot of civil statutes involved," Click said.
He added that the police department likely will consult with the county attorney, district attorney and possibly the attorney general about the case.
"It's a rather complicated deal," Click said.
Court records show that one couple won a small claims case against TOPS on June 25.
Court documents show that Nora and Allen Cardenas and TOPS CEO/President Bobby R. Fulcher Sr. appeared in small claims court, where Justice of the Peace Bill Cooke ordered Fulcher to recover $612 to the plaintiff.
Fulcher was unavailable for comment. The phone number listed on the business' sign rings a busy signal whenever it is dialed.
The phone number listed in the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce's May newsletter goes to an automated system, which no one answers. Messages from the Daily Herald left for Fulcher on multiple voice mail systems were not returned.
Richard Kitterman, executive director of the Centroplex Office for the Better Business Bureau, has been trying to contact Fulcher since early July.
Kitterman previously described the TOPS parking lot as resembling a car lot with several cars, boats and jet skis on display for sale.
On Tuesday, the parking lot was empty except for four vehicles facing the road – two with license plates, two without. A sign on the door reads "Temporarily closed due to recent vandalism. You will be contacted about your account." The note is signed "Mgmt" and dated July 17, 2007.
The front door is intact. The interior, from the view of the glass door, appears empty.
KCEN-TV cameraman Peter Hull went to the business on July 17 to talk with business owners after receiving a call from someone complaining about the business. Shortly thereafter, he heard the vandalism and burglary report on a police scanner.
Hull went to the business where, he said, employees were packing pictures on walls and other office items into boxes and refused to talk to him. The glass on the front door was shattered. That was shortly before 3 p.m. July 17.
"They gave me this story that the owner was out of town and completely unreachable," Hull said.
On Tuesday, a stack of Kitterman's business cards sat by the door. Other cards and slips of paper were shoved between the door and frame. One reads, "I need my car."
"It changes hourly," Kitterman said about the number of complaints he received.
While his phone has been ringing off the hook since last week, only 13 complaints have been filed online at www.centraltx.bbb.org; 11 were filed this month.
Kitterman said his Web site hits to investigate fraudulent businesses is 86 so far this month.
"That's a huge, huge number," Kitterman said.
Previous to that, the high for the entire month was 32 with an average of 20 hits per month.
Although he has attempted to contact Fulcher since early July, Kitterman said he still has not spoken to the owner of TOPS.
Kitterman said there are two victims in this apparent fraud: the person turning the property over to TOPS and the person buying from TOPS.
Kitterman said, based on piecing together the dozens of stories he's heard, TOPS would take a car, for example, off the hands of the owner who could not afford $500 payments. TOPS would do this for a fee of about $100 a month.
"Generally, the people in these problems have mismanaged their finances," Kitterman said. "So a $100 payment is good to get out of this."
Kitterman said it gave people breathing room in their expenditures.
TOPS promised to take over the full payments for the vehicle. TOPS would then sell the vehicle to someone for about a $1,500 down payment. That buyer would then take over making the payments and send a check to TOPS each month.
In recent months, however, lenders started contacting the original car buyers to tell them they are months past due on their payments.
Kitterman said in most cases it is a violation of the loan agreement to turn the vehicle, house, mobile home or other property bought on credit to a third party.
Kitterman can be reached at the Better Business Bureau at 699-0694.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7550