Getting scammed is awful.
Some victims blame themselves. Others are embarrassed they fell for a con artist.
And then there’s the money.
Trying to get it back can seem impossible. You have to jump through hoops as you work with law enforcement and the courts, and there’s never any guarantee of success.
The process takes time. Lots and lots of time.
You have to be persistent. And patient.
We’re happy to report there’s justice on the way for Patty Ruby and Howard Himpele, two scam victims profiled in a Bamboozled column in 2015.
The couple hired Nick Stevens to help them get an invention to market in 2010. Stevens initially worked for InventHelp — a legit company — but he soon left and took the couple with him as clients for his new business.
Ruby and Himpele said Stevens wasn’t what he claimed to be.
The couple said they realized Stevens offered more promises, excuses and delays than actual progress.
They filed a civil suit against Stevens in 2014. Stevens didn’t show up, so the couple won a default judgment of $8,000 plus court fees.
Even with the help of the court, Ruby and Himpele were unable to collect.
When we looked into Stevens, we learned this couple wasn’t the only one with a judgment against him.
Albert Sutowski, then 86, told us he had a 2013 judgment against Stevens. He said Stevens also promised to work with him on an invention.
Despite the judgment, Sutowski hadn’t been paid back, he says.
Stevens also had a 2009 bankruptcy and four federal tax liens adding up to $199,399, public records showed. One of the liens, for $29,827.40, was paid in July 2015, records show. The other three are still outstanding.
“My next thing will be to file criminal charges against him. You call it what you want. To me, it’s theft by deception,” Ruby said.
As Ruby threatened, criminal charges came next.
Stevens was indicted on four counts of third degree theft by deception in 2015 in Union County Superior Court, officials said.
Ruby said the other complainants came forward after reading Ruby’s story in Bamboozled.
Stevens didn’t show for several court hearings, officials said. There was an open warrant for Stevens’ arrest, and he was an “active fugitive” for more than two years, according to assistant prosecutor John Esmerado.
Esmerado said police caught up with Stevens in January 2018. He was arrested and spent seven days in jail awaiting his day in court, Esmerado said.
Stevens’ attorney asked for pre-trial intervention (PTI), which would have helped Stevens avoid jail time.
The request was denied, Esmerado said.
But after a negotiated plea deal in February, no time behind bars is expected.
Stevens agreed to plead guilty to two counts of third degree theft by deception, Esmerado said.
Part of the deal was to pay restitution of more than $15,000.
Stevens told the court he had few assets, so he was put on a payment plan.
The judge ordered Stevens to pay $250 per month for five years, and the payments would be split among the victims. When one victim is paid off, the $250 per month would be split among the remaining victims until they are all made whole.
But the victims question Stevens’ financial status. Public records show he sold a Lavallette home, assessed at nearly $850,000, to his wife for $1 in 2009. It was later sold to their daughter for $1 in 2014, records show. Another home in Springfield owned by Stevens was lost to foreclosure, records show.
Still, the court approved the payment plan.
Albert Sutowski, now 89, wasn’t part of the deal because his experience with Stevens took place in a different county.
“I put my trust in somebody and they do this to me? I can’t understand it. He should be punished,” he said. “I had suits, but [Nick Stevens] never showed up. He thumbed his nose at the court.”
Stevens’ sentencing date is April 27.
We tried to reach Stevens, but the numbers were out of order. We also contacted Stevens’ attorney, Jason Seidman.
Seidman didn’t respond to our phone and email messages.
Ruby said she and Himpele are still angry, and they, citing the $1 property sales, believe Stevens has more money than he’s telling the court.
“We feel he should give us the money all at one time,” Ruby said, rather than the $62.50 per month they will receive for five years. “It didn’t take us five years to give him our money.”
We’ll keep an eye on the case.