CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — Tens of thousands of dollars of gym equipment auctioned off, and the profits have yet to be seen.
Former Clay County gym owner Rob Jennis has been fighting for years to get the money he says he’s owed back.
The On Your Side team investigated and found out Jennis is not the only alleged victim.
It started with the auction company taking pictures of the gym equipment and putting them on its website. Then, the equipment was sold off during an auction in December 2020.
“That’s when everything started to unwind," Jennis said.
After the auction closed, Sugarman Auction Corp. sent him an invoice, which shows the equipment sold for $92,180.
According to the contract, Sugarman was supposed to pay Jennis his share –$76,058.50 – within 15 days.
However, Jennis says the check never came.
“Day 15 became day 30, and then so on," he explained. "And then, I sought some advice to try to get the money back.“
In March 2021, Jennis filed a report with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
According to documents from its investigation, Sugarman’s Owner Scott Grasso had a history of “financial issues” stemming from real estate transactions.
The sheriff's office learned Grasso “allegedly took out several high-interest loans in order to go into business with a company in Orlando, Florida and was struggling to pay back the over one million dollars in debt.”
Detectives said one of Grasso’s friends explained this was the reason that Grasso had not been able to pay Jennis.
The On Your Side team called and texted Grasso.
He responded via text:
"Thank you for your text and the opportunity to explain
For months my lawyers and I have been trying to work this out with Rob and his potential creditors but he has refused any of our offers"
Investigative reporter Haley Harrison responded:
"Why didn't you pay him within the 15 day window?"
Grasso texted back:
"There are unique circumstances with this we are working to try to resolve these circumstances so we can properly settle the sale proceeds"
According to the report from the sheriff’s office, Grasso offered a payment plan. This would involve Jennis signing a new contract with Grasso, which is something he is unwilling to do.
Although the financial issue is not settled, the investigation was closed in May 2021 and labeled “unfounded" by the sheriff's office, which sent this statement to the On Your Side team:
“The Clay County Sheriff's Office Financial Crimes Unit investigated this incident and interviewed the parties involved. Following the investigation, the detective reviewed the case with the State Attorney's Office. It was concluded that based on the available information and testimony at this time, the case is a civil matter.”
However, Jennis is reportedly not the only one who has had problems getting his share.
The On Your Side team uncovered eight complaints filed with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation against Grasso's auctioneer license.
All of the complaints claiming a "failure to account for or to pay or return, within a reasonable time not to exceed 30 days, money or property." One even said a check from the company bounced for insufficient funds.
According to a final order from the state agency’s board of auctioneers, Grasso's license was temporarily suspended in April 2021. However, its license is still currently inactive, the agency’s communications director says, due to unpaid fines to the state.
“I'm not going to let him get by," Jennis explained. "Because, my biggest concern is, yes, the money is important. But, he's done this to quite a few people."
To prevent finding yourself in a similar situation, the president of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida, Tom Stephens, advises doing research before hiring an auctioneer.
He suggests checking out BBB.org and myfloridalicense.com websites for complaints, and googling reviews before contacting an auctioneer.
"Find out about the cost beforehand, what his fee is gonna be, what it covers and what additional costs you might have, such as rent of a place or cleanup afterwards," Stephens said. “Get a contract and make sure that everything that he tells you orally is in the contract."
He also says you can search for members on the Florida Auction Association website.
Despite not having an active Florida license, as of Thursday, Sugarman Auction Corp and Scott Grasso's names both appear on an active auctioneer website.
Jennis says he hopes the state attorney’s office reconsiders taking on the case as a criminal matter.
"Till they get caught and are held accountable, they're gonna keep doing this to folks," he said.