AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – When moving companies need packing material, many turn to Mountain Packaging in Denver.
“We are a wholesale supplier of packing materials,” Todd Schrader, owner of Mountain Packaging, said.
For nearly four years, Schrader said he sold his products to another local company – Rocky Mountain Overseas (RMO). Yet that longtime business deal recently came to an abrupt end.
“I smelled a rat,” Schrader told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann.
Schrader said payments from RMO suddenly stopped. He provided CBS4 copies of a half dozen unpaid invoices showing RMO owes his company nearly $8,000.
“The owner, Darlene, would not answer the phone and would lock the door when I went over there to collect,” Schrader explained. “She threatened to get a restraining order on me if I continued to see her.”
Darlene Bell is the owner and vice president of RMO. CBS4 tried speaking with her at the company’s office in late September, but she declined to talk on camera.
However, a group of former RMO employees did choose to speak on camera, telling CBS4 they, too, are owed money.
“I cannot pay my rent, and I got an eviction notice today,” Cori Bailey, RMO’s former office manager, said.
“Just because we don’t want to work for you no more, so you’re holding our money hostage? No. That’s not right,” Leonard Romero, the company’s former warehouse manager, said of Darlene Bell.
Bailey and Romero, along with the former assistant warehouse manager, said they decided to quit together two weeks ago. They said they were finally fed up with what they called a “shady business” where many customers went months without receiving their belongings and paid upwards of three times what they should have given to RMO.
“It was constantly about money and not running the business and taking care of the customers,” Romero said.
After several attempts to reach the owners of RMO by phone, the founder – Ainslie Bell – eventually called CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann on her cell phone. He declined an on-camera interview, but agreed to recording the call.
“I am not a criminal. I am not a crook,” he said.
Ainslie said he and his wife, Darlene, have run a “clean company” for 30 years, even though several customers told CBS4 they have been scammed by RMO.
“One thing I would say to them is that we’re not fraudulent and this was not intentional,” he said. “There was no criminal intent here.”
“Okay, but they’re still out tens of thousands of dollars and it took months to get their belongings,” Werthmann replied. “Some are still waiting.”
“Right, and I’m out my whole company,” Ainslie responded.
Ainslie went on to say the moving mishaps and unpaid bills aren’t his or his wife’s fault. Instead, he blames the office manager who walked out.
“It’s all on her,” he said.
The same woman who explained she had no access to the company’s accounts, and may now be out of a home because RMO refuses to give her a final paycheck.
“It’s a lie,” Bailey said. “It hurts my feelings because I did everything that they’ve asked me to do.”
And, for a fellow small business owner, seeing customers and employees struggle is worse than losing money.
“That bothers me more than us not getting paid for boxes,” Schrader said.
Another vendor reached out to CBS4 to say they are in a middle of a lawsuit against RMO, and both Ainslie and Darlene Bell are due in court this week. Due to current litigation, the manager declined to share additional details on record.
In an email, Ainslie said he is working on paying vendors, like Mountain Packing, what they’re owed as well as eventually reimbursing customers.