LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - He talked a good game, but former workers in February told WAVE 3 News that Classic Muscle founder Chris Nezer was collecting tens of thousands of dollars with no intentions of finishing car restorations.
"I've never seen a finished product come out of there," former Classic Muscle worker Miranda Neal said. "He's always talking about 'these people are so stupid; they have more money than sense.'"
After Nezer had been sentenced in Nashville to 51 months in prison in a fraud case that raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars, he opened a car restoration business called Classic Muscle which went bankrupt and shut down, according to an FBI release.
His workers told WAVE 3 News the same thing was going on in Louisville, pointing to a warehouse filled with cars not being worked on for up to a year.
"Why can't we just go down to the end of the block and see the backlog of cars then?" WAVE 3 News asked Nezer in February.
"Because it's not gonna happen," he said.
"Because it's not gonna happen, that's why," Nezer shot back.
Thinking they were about to get the Classic Muscle hustle, two angry customers used police to try to get their cars back.
"My car's been here since November 2015," Classic Muscle customer Michael Hitchcock said as police were there monitoring the situation.
"Every time we go in there, he says he needs more money," customer Paul Daniels said, also accompanied by police.
Each month, the horror stories piled up.
One customer complained about paying $9,000 and getting nothing but excuses.
Another said he was out $15,000 so far and when he tried to retrieve his car, the shop was locked.
And a third customer, who had paid $12,000, claimed Classic Muscle was stalling and not telling the truth.
Nine months after WAVE 3 News' first report, the classic tussle at Classic Muscle is over. The business moved into a building at 7th and Commerce, then vanished. One thing tougher than car restoration is bank account restoration.
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"I'm out at this point, in total, about $52,000," Mike Wheatley said, adding that he invested in car restoration as a father-and-son bonding project. Instead, he had to bond with an attorney who fired off a letter.
"If our client doesn't get our money back and his car, we're gonna take you to court," Wheatley said, recalling the letter. "Then I find out soon thereafter, a few days after that, the FBI raided the place and he went on the run."
"They was leading me on, telling me that they can get it done, just give em a little more time," said Daniels, who lost $14,000. "So we took a wrecker truck, said we done had enough and towed both vehicles away."
"What can you do about it?" WAVE 3 News asked Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Reanna Smith-Hamblin. "Seems like no one could do anything about it."
"It does seem that way," she said.
The BBB said we all have to become investigative reporters when considering expenditures like this.
"It's hard," Smith-Hamblin said. "You don't think to, when you're getting your car restored, to check everything out. Really dig and research and check people's names, company names because it can change all the time."
In the final few days before Classic Muscle vanished on Sept. 1, owners reported three cars stolen. Two of them mysteriously disappeared just before the owners showed up demanding their money and their cars back.
The FBI has responded to WAVE 3 News' inquiries each time with the same line: The FBI cannot comment on ongoing investigations. Nezer is nowhere to be found. The only comments WAVE 3 News can get are from duped customers.
"You go into this not thinking it's going to be a crook you're dealing with," Wheatley said. "And you go into it with good faith, write the checks, and then the money's gone. And you're left holding the bag."
The BBB has Classic Muscle rated at a D-minus.
The customers wonder how bad it has to be to get an F.