Stove bankruptcy leaves customers out in cold

? A Hutchinson Realtor has bought up the abandoned inventory of a defunct stove restoration business, but said he has no plans to get into the trade.

“It’s been sitting in a building I own,” said Jim Davis, of Realty Executives 4Results and Paragon Management LLC. “We weren’t getting anything else done. I bought control of it so I can get on with liquidating it.”

The purchase price of $8,700 – less deductions for attorney fees and court costs – resulted in paltry 5 percent or less settlement payments to customers of Vintage Stoves who had made payments but never received their ordered stoves or, in many cases, never got return of stoves they had shipped to Hutchinson for restoration.

That left some customers – nearly all of whom were from out of state – angry and dismayed with Kansas authorities.

“Although I can only speak for my family, I think most claimants felt insult was added to the injury Stevan Thomas Vintage Stoves caused when the Kansas AG’s office absolutely mishandled this case and let the matter fall through the cracks for the past year,” said Al Roethlisberger, of Sanford, N.C., who has been waiting for his stove for more than two years.

“In our case, our $7,100 claim was reduced to a little over $200 in proposed compensation,” said Roethlisberger, who didn’t fault the appointed receiver, just state investigators who failed to act. “I suppose it’s better than nothing. But if one also considers the stress, emotional roller coaster and absolute financial impact, it isn’t much better.”

Roethlisberger had sent two 1930s-era stoves to the Vintage Stove warehouse in June 2006, one to be restored and one for parts to go into the restoration. Both sit in the warehouse partially dismantled and were included in the receivership sale.

That’s because, Roethlisberger said, he was advised “numerous times” by the AG’s office to leave the property on site or risk losing any opportunity for reimbursement.

“And then there is the opinion by many, bolstered by actual evidence, that there are aspects of the Vintage Stove’s demise that are criminal, not simply civil,” he said. “It disappoints many that this angle is not being vigorously pursued.”

A spokeswoman with Attorney General Steve Six’s office indicated a criminal investigation remains under way, but declined to provide further details or indicate when it might be resolved.

“Our office is still working on this case. It has been made more complicated by Mr. Radakovich leaving the state,” stated Ashley Anstaett, the AG’s director of communications, in an e-mail that referred to Vintage Store owner Stevan Thomas Radakovich.

Anstaett said those who filed claims were given the option by the receiver, Hutchinson attorney Tom Arnhold, of picking up stoves if they could identify them. She said 20 of the 47 customers who contacted the AG’s office have contacted Arnhold.

A transplant from Orange County, Calif., Radakovich purchased the massive brick former Colladay Hardware building in November 2004 and over a couple of years, received for restoration or hauled in for parts more than 300 old stoves. Vintage Stoves had customers from coast to coast, with the finished products selling for $3,000 to $25,000. Rachael Ray’s television show selected one of its stoves for its studio set.

Complaints started to pile up against Vintage and Radakovich last year, however, for nondelivery of stoves and refusal to refund down payments.

A number of lawsuits and an investigation by the Kansas attorney general’s office followed.