Gold buyer plagued by returned checks

An Illinois-based company that did business in the Harbor last month to buy gold and other valuables from local citizens wrote a number of bad checks for business transactions, the company has acknowledged.

Several of the bad checks were written to local media companies, including The Daily World, for advertising fees after the purchasing events had ended.

The company, THR & Associates, is based in Springfield, Il. It conducted two events in Aberdeen during the past year to buy precious metals, coins or antiques. The most recent one was held April 17-21 at the Guesthouse Inn & Suites at 701 E. Heron in Aberdeen.

The company agreed to buy a full-page ad in The Daily World, but the check written for the transaction came back as “return to maker” and another check for a lesser amount was returned as “stop payment.”

Although the company was notified of the check problems as early as April 25 and promised to send a replacement to cover the amount, no further checks were received as of Thursday.

The company has had numerous complaints filed against it with the Better Business Bureau and various state agencies, including one filed by a Yakima-area woman with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office over a bad check written for items she sold at a similar event in Yakima. The Better Business Bureau lists 75 complaints against the company over the past three years, with 64 of those resolved in the past 12 months.

In addition, the IRS filed a lien of more than $1.3 million against THR & Associates on April 17, according to The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Il.

Matthew Enright, THR & Associates vice president of media relations, yesterday acknowledged the company has about 4,200 checks issued across the country that have been returned because of what he described as a banking error.

“All the checks are coming back saying, ‘refer to maker,’ ” Enright said. “Basically what happened was that right in the middle of a work week on a Tuesday evening, we received a phone call from PNC Bank saying they were electing to close our account.”

According to Enright, the bank refused to allow the company to make good on all the checks it had already written, including ones to business in the Aberdeen area.

“For whatever reason, they elected to close our account right in the middle of the work week, and for us, we write close to 15,000 check a week,” Enright said.

It is unclear if any local citizens who sold their valuables are affected, and the company advertises that it pays cash for gold or other items. Aberdeen Police say they have not had any reports yet filed against the company, and a spokeswoman for the Guesthouse Inn & Suites said the company paid for its rooms up front.

In addition to its IRS and banking problems, the company also has been “hit by complaints from consumers and employees that thousands of checks issued either to pay for merchandise payments or for payroll have bounced in the last few weeks,” according to a May 1 story in The State Journal-Register.

On April 27, a group of THR & Associates employees also filed a federal lawsuit seeking class-action status for a suit that claims the company violated federal labor, wage and hour laws.

Enright said the company is trying to rectify all the outstanding checks and that 60 percent of the people “have already been paid back.”

“We actually were very proactive in trying to get this resolved,” he said. “We made several thousand phone calls to our customers to make them aware of what is going to happen and we re-issued payments to those people already.”

That contention, however, doesn’t appear to be true for the bad checks written in the Grays Harbor area. Told that the checks to the newspaper and radio stations had apparently not be rectified, Enright said he was surprised and asked if the company had been notified. When told it had, he suggested it was only a matter of time before the debts would be taken care of.

The company now is operating solely with a J.P. Morgan/Chase account after Enright said the company had been wooed by PNC Bank several months ago.

“Obviously, that didn’t work out,” he said, adding that PNC gave no reason for closing the account.

Enright contends the company then had a difficult time figuring out who the returned checks were written to and then contacting those still owed money.

“At this point if nobody has either heard from us or if they haven’t contacted us, there really is no way for us to get in contact with them,” he said. “So what we are eventually going to have to do is start sending out letters once we get this resolved. We’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”

If anyone has not been repaid, Enright said, call the corporate office at (217) 726-7590 to get a new check issued, which he said would be done “immediately.”

He also acknowledged that some people who sold their valuables to the company could be affected, too.

“We were writing checks thinking everything was fine and dandy, and we went ahead with all business as normal,” he said.