State shuts down Geeks with lawsuit

kjahner@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2014 

— After hearing accusations of habitually late and incompetent repair work and lies to frustrated customers – and no rebuttal from the no-show defendants – a judge ruled that a local computer repair chain must cease operations for now.

The North Carolina Department of Justice filed suit against computer repair chain Raleigh Geeks, and won a temporary restraining order at the May 9 hearing that bars any of its four stores, owners or employees – including a location in Cleveland – from taking in any more consumer money or equipment.

“Taking money upfront, keeping someone’s computer for months, and then giving it back still broken is no way to do business,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a press release. “Customers who paid for repairs that never happened deserve their money and their computers back.”

A preliminary injunction hearing on May 19 was expected to determine whether the shop will remain closed for the duration of the lawsuit.

The state charges Raleigh Geeks with violating the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Allegations stem from 24 complaints filed with the Justice Department. Customers claim to have been given the runaround for weeks, only to have still-broken, more-broken or even wrong computers or tablets or phones returned, if they are returned at all. Refunds were also promised in the event of customer dissatisfaction – repair costs were charged in full upfront – and dissatisfaction complaints were routinely denied.

Aside from halting operations until the case is decided, the lawsuit requests a permanent injunction to prevent anyone associated with Raleigh Geeks from resuming any unfair or deceptive practices, return of all property and money for services not received to customers and civil fines. The $5,000 per violation would count each week the practices occurred as a separate violation.

No Refunds

The lawsuit describes four of the complaints in detail, including one originating in the Cleveland store. Other stores are in Apex, Raleigh and Fuquay-Varina.

Leebester Cox brought in a computer only able to display a blue screen last July, according to the lawsuit. He paid $213.49 up front and was told it would be ready in 10 days. He heard nothing and called the store 23 days later, and was told it would be fixed the next day.

Cox called two days later and was told the new part was faulty, he asked for his computer and money back. “Henry” convinced him to let them try again, but nine days later he heard the same excuse. Henry again refused to return the cash and computer, and referred Cox to “Jeff,” apparently the manager at the Fuquay-Varina location. Jeff promised to fix the computer that day.

That evening Cox picked up his computer, more than a month after the initial visit, but noticed cosmetic damage and that the serial and model numbers didn’t match the one he gave them. When Cox called to complain Henry said the part would not fit in his computer, so he just used a different computer. When Cox demanded his back, Henry could only produce its stickers with the model and serial numbers. Henry refused to refund Cox. Another detailed complaint also involved someone calling himself Jeff. Later a different employee said no one named Jeff worked at the store.

Cox’s story mirrors the lawsuit’s documentation of other ordeals, which included allegations of delays, broken promises, an iPad returned broken and with inner parts visible, parts replaced without permission, additional functionality loss, lies about employees and an employee screaming at a customer.

Nebulous ownership

The suit names Timothy J. Staie Jr, Garrett J. Foster, and Steven A. Leo as defendants. But the state is not entirely certain of the ownership situation. The company has been unresponsive to customers, dozens of Better Business Bureau complaints (where it has an F rating), and all but six of the 24 Justice Department inquiries. Attempts to reach the defendants for this story were unsuccessful.

“It’s been very difficult to uncover how different companies are inter-related (and who owns them),” justice department spokeswoman Noelle Talley said.

During reporting on a January story, Foster, 30, claimed to be the owner, while the BBB said it believes Staie and Mark Edward White to be principals. Talley said the state is aware of White, but hasn’t named him in the lawsuit at this point. Among the state’s requests are lists of all owners and interested parties along with documentation of their business and personal financial assets.

Staie signed paperwork indicating Fuquay Computers Protech’s intention to operate as Raleigh Geeks, though Foster said in January that Staie was just a manager. According to the lawsuit, “Garrett” told a customer in December, 2013, that Staie had been fired.

The customer said Staie had damaged her laptop, which sparked when she plugged in the AC adapter Raleigh Geeks gave her after losing hers. Another computer repair shop, Absolute Computers, later told her “the DC jack had been rigged to stay in place with wads of manila envelope, wires had been ripped from their sockets and melted, plastic had been melted, and screws were missing or stripped,” the lawsuit said.

Staie, 31, and White, 37, both have had ownership ties to computer stores in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., that had similar problems. White also faced 18 counts of felony conversion when customers accused him of keeping their computers after closing Laptop Pros in Smithfield in 2010. Those charges were later dismissed when he returned them. Hundreds of BBB complaints were amassed to White- and Staie-owned shops.

According to multiple records including business and voter records, White, Staie and Foster have all claimed a common address in Lillington, either currently or within the last few years.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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