Customers say Richland business took deposits, vanished

More than a dozen Tri-Citians say they were scammed by a Richland business they say took thousands of dollars to customize vehicles, then disappeared.

Now, they are pressing for a criminal investigation and want their money back.

Steve Zetz, a Benton City resident and self-described “car guy,” is leading efforts by at least 15 people who say they collectively paid $10,000 to Anthem Wraps & Coatings.

They say its owner, Daniel Crouchet, 40, led them on with promises and excuses, then vanished along with their money without working on their vehicles.

The Richland Police Department confirmed it is looking into the complaints against Crouchet as a possible criminal matter but no decision has been made about a formal investigation.

The Washington Attorney General’s Office also confirmed to the Tri-City Herald it received several complaints but could not comment or confirm if an investigation is pending.

Similarly, the Washington Department of Revenue said it can’t speak about individual businesses.

There is no record that Crouchet registered Anthem as a business in Washington state. The department noted it has a compliance division to pursue businesses with questionable operations.

This spring, Anthem closed its doors at 1852 Bronco Lane, near the Richland Airport, shut down social media, canceled its phone and was evicted for failing to pay rent.

The Herald previously reported on Daniel Crouchet in 2012, then 29, when he was sentenced to 29 months in prison for stealing leased household goods from Rent-A-Center in Kennewick. At the time, he told the judge the theft was linked to his drug addiction.

He has convictions for second-degree robbery (2012), stolen property (2006), gun possession (2005), burglary (2005), escape (2003), controlled substance possession (2001), felony stolen property (2001) and a significant juvenile history involving theft and assault, according to court documents.

Car people

Zetz and his wife, Cherylann, embraced high end cars in 2018. Car culture is a central part of their lives as Cherylann battles cancer.

When their vehicle was dinged in a parking lot, they turned to Anthem to rewrap it in a new color. The project was on Cherylann’s “bucket list” of things she wanted to accomplish in her time left.

Zetz said Anthem understood it was important to complete the work this spring.

Automobile aficoanado Steve Zetz of Benton City turned to a Richland auto wrap business to handle minor damage from a wreck on his 2016 BMW i8 but instead joined more than a dozen Tri-Citians who say they were scammed by the business that promised to customize their vehicles.
Automobile aficoanado Steve Zetz of Benton City turned to a Richland auto wrap business to handle minor damage from a wreck on his 2016 BMW i8 but instead joined more than a dozen Tri-Citians who say they were scammed by the business that promised to customize their vehicles. Courtesy Steve Zetz

When the April appointment date arrived, Zetz said a secretary called to tell him the project would be delayed to June because of an emergency, a date they feared would be too late. By June, Anthem was gone.

Zetz arranged for another firm to do the work, but isn’t giving up on pursuing a business he believes had no intention of performing the work.

He’s filed police reports and helps manage a private Facebook page where victims share stories and push for an investigation.

“It’s frustrating,” Zetz said.

Common thread

The details differ from customer to customer, but a common thread emerges.

Customers who wanted to personalize cars, trucks and motorcycles met Crouchet at the shop to discuss their vision. They paid a deposit, often the full amount, after he said he needed money to purchase materials.

When the scheduled appointments approached, a secretary would call to explain there was a delay, typically citing a family emergency. Some were told the owner’s father had died. Others were told the owner’s mother had been in an accident.

“I think his father died five times,” Zetz said.

The Herald found an obituary notice for a man named Daniel Crouchet, 66, died June 7 in Auburn, but it’s unclear if the two were related.

Eventually, all customers were told the shop had closed and the money was gone.

Leased space

Anthem rented garage space near the Richland airport from Roy Keck, a Port of Benton commissioner, and his son, Jeff.

Keck said the car wrap business operated for about two years. When it stopped paying rent, he moved to evict it and remove the equipment it left behind.

Roy Keck considers himself a victim over the unpaid rent, but his involvement complicates the story.

He leased the land from the Port of Benton in 2003 and built a building to house his business, subleasing other spaces. He was elected to the commission four years later.

The port connection rankles victims, who say it gave the business an aura of legitimacy. So does the lack of a business license. Zetz told the Herald he plans to attend the port’s July 12 public meeting to raise his concerns to Keck and the other two commissioners.

Ports commonly enter long-term land leases as part of their economic-development mission.

Steve Zetz of Benton City claims he and others were scammed by a business they paid to customize their vehicles. Behind Zetz are a friend’s yellow 1999 Ferrari 360 Modena and a 2020 Audi r8.
Steve Zetz of Benton City claims he and others were scammed by a business they paid to customize their vehicles. Behind Zetz are a friend’s yellow 1999 Ferrari 360 Modena and a 2020 Audi r8. Bob Brawdy [email protected]

‘We’ve been robbed’

Reiko Evans dropped off a new motorcycle and a $600 deposit in October. Evans wanted the lime green details covered by a shimmery purple wrap. The work dragged on. Evans was told the owner’s father had died.

After six months of minimal contact, empathy turned to impatience. Evans demanded the return of the motorcycle and the money. The money was gone and the motorcycle had been worked on, but was damaged.

Its lime green base had been partially covered with an iridescent wrap that didn’t cover the original finish. The new motorcycle was scratched.

“Purple, lime green and orange do not go together. That is not what we talked about,” Evans said.

Evans said the motorcycle was supposed to be his break from the demands of raising six children.

“You can’t take six kids anywhere on a motorcycle. That’s why I got a motorcycle,” he said.

In another case, a couple wanted to obscure the chrome on their black Ford Explorer. A local auto detailer referred them to the Richland business.

They sent $505 for the $1,010 job via Cash App, expecting to drop the vehicle off a few days later. But the day before the appointment, the shop texted an excuse: The owner’s mother had been in an accident. The job would have to wait.

Follow up messages went unanswered.

Suspicious, the wife began searching for information about Anthem. She found the Facebook page filled with similar stories.

“My hunch was true.”

Another customer paid $1,200 cash after meeting Crouchet at the shop and seeing equipment, including vehicles being worked on. When the time came to schedule the work, Crouchet stopped responding to messages.

The day before the appointment, a secretary informed the customer Crouchet’s father had died.

“We don’t have our money. Social media and the website have been taken down. His number no longer works,” the customer said. “We feel we’ve been robbed.”

Trentyn Stubbs, another customer, wanted to customize his newer Ford Mustang with his favorite color.

“I wanted to get something that was purple, but color changing,” Stubbs said.

A Google search led to Anthem. Stubbs paid the entire $4,100 cost up front, “a big number.” Eight months later, no work had been performed.

“I’d just get a bunch of excuses. He’s sick. He’s out of town. He had a family medical emergency,” Stubbs said. Eventually, the secretary told him the business was closed and there wasn’t any money.

Stubbs filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, but is trying to absorb the loss of $4,100.

“It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”

Tips to avoid scams

The Better Business Bureau has 10 tips to avoid being scammed. While the advice focuses on online scams, several are relevant when working with an in-person business.

  • Never send money via gift cards or wire transfer to someone you have never met face-to-face.
  • Avoid clicking on links or opening attachments in unsolicited emails.
  • Don’t believe everything you see.
  • Double check that online purchases are secure before checking out and paying.
  • Use extreme caution when dealing with anyone you’ve only met online.
  • Never share personally identifiable information.
  • Resist pressure to act immediately.
  • Use secure and traceable transactions.
  • Whenever possible, work with local businesses with proper identification, licensing and insurance. Washington business license information is posted on the Secretary of State website,
  • Be cautious about what details you share on social media.

Herald staffer Cory McCoy contributed reporting to this story.

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This story was originally published July 9, 2023, 5:00 AM.

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Reporter Wendy Culverwell writes about growth, development and business for the Tri-City Herald. She has worked for daily and weekly publications throughout Washington and Oregon. She earned a degree in English and economics from the University of Puget Sound.