PLANTATION, Fla. – A South Florida entrepreneur who claimed he was scammed out of about $15,000 worth of merchandise is warning others and asking any potential victims to come forward.
Business owner Alejandro Rodriguez told Local 10 News investigative reporter Amy Viteri he has put all his resources into his startup shoe brand Caballero Wear.
"New father, young entrepreneur," Rodriguez explained, "I got student loans. You know, this is a dream of mine. Every dollar that we earn goes right back into the business."
But he said one bad deal almost cost him that business. In February 2017, Rodriguez, who is based in Plantation, traveled to a trade show in Las Vegas to market his shoe brand.
He said he met a man who called himself "Tony" and claimed to be a buyer for a trendy men's store in Washington, D.C. Rodriguez said he made a deal to ship 140 pairs, around $15,000 worth of product, from his factory in Colombia to the shop in Washington and delay payment for a month in exchange for the exposure opportunity.
"A net 40 is, 'I'll give you the pair of shoes. You pay me in 40 days,' so it's like, 'I'm giving you credit, pretty much," Rodriguez said, "So, as naive as I was and excited, I went ahead and agreed to it."
Seven months later, he said he never received payment. Texts and emails went unanswered and eventually his number was blocked.
"At that moment, I just knew I was getting scammed," he said.
Rodriguez said he called several police departments, including Las Vegas, where he met the supposed buyer, and Washington, where the shoes were shipped. But he said he never got a clear answer about what to do next.
Through his research, he said, he learned the shoes went to a store called Euro Style in Washington, which did not look like the shop he saw in pictures from the trade show. The buyer he knew as Tony, he said, is actually the store's owner, Moe Abdi. Rodriguez and his business partner Anthony Tranchida eventually flew to Washington to find the shoes and get police involved.
"I wanted to see him selling my shoe, and that's exactly what he did," Rodriguez said.
Tranchida went in first to pose as a customer. Within minutes, the store's owner started trying to sell him shoes.
"I look at his feet and I'm, like, 'Oh my God, those are our shoes,'" Tranchida said. "I try them on. I actually took photos while I was in the dressing room of me with the shoes in his store."
Rodriguez called D.C. Metropolitan Police. Dash cam and body worn-camera videos record the officer arriving to investigate. Rodriguez explained he made the agreement in Las Vegas, sent the contract from South Florida and shipped the shoes to D.C. It was a jurisdictional nightmare.
The officer questioned the shop owner, who responded, "Talk to my lawyer."
"At that point he was thrown off," Tranchida said. "He's like, 'I don't know these guys. I don't know that guy. I've never done business with them.'"
"You have the receipt?" Abdi asked.
"Yes, I do," Rodriguez said.
He got the same response from the owner: "Talk to my lawyer."
Most frustrating for the South Florida company, the shoes were right there. But an incident report from D.C.'s Metropolitan Police said the case happened over several states and was "now a civil matter."
Rodriguez argues it is theft. He said the loss nearly put him out of business. Caballero launched a Kickstarter campaign and has done more than $18,000 in sales. The company still has not recovered the merchandise. But Rodriguez hopes others will come forward about buyers like this one.
"If there's any brands out there where this guy, Tony, has made a purchase order, this is the time to speak up," he said.
Local 10 News left phone messages and emailed the store's owner in Washington. So far, no one has responded. Rodriguez said he was still exploring his legal options but was hopeful his story would prompt other potential victims to come forward and warn other businesses.