It’s been more than seven weeks since the Boaz woman hired Dennis Steward, the owner of Liberty Cabinets in Saks, to refinish the kitchen cabinets in her four-bedroom home on U.S. 431. She paid nearly $4,000 up front for the project and was told to go ahead and start extensively remodeling the kitchen for their arrival.
The cabinets were supposed to have been delivered Monday, but Minyard said Wednesday she hadn’t heard from Steward in more than a week.
“We ripped our house to shreds,” said Minyard, whose kitchen is still in ruins close to two months later.
What Steward never told Minyard was his shop on Old Gadsden Highway in Saks had burned down on June 7, three days after she entered into contract with him. A little more than a month later, Steward was booked into Calhoun County jail on three counts of theft of property.
An investigation from the District Attorney’s Office is working on adding to those charges as they look into a list of complaints about undelivered cabinets, shady contract dealings and broken promises on behalf of Liberty Cabinets in multiple states in the Southeast.
“There are several victims out there with similar stories,” said Chris Hughes, an investigator at the District Attorney’s Office. “There’s at least eight other cases we’re looking into.”
Court documents show Steward did not request a court-appointed attorney. His father, Travis Steward, told The Star Friday he did not believe his son had an attorney or could afford one.
Steward’s modus operandi was typically the same in all cases, Hughes said. The man, boasting he’d been in the business 30 years, would advertise on the website Craigslist, meet with potential customers, give an estimate, and then request half the money upfront. Then, he was gone.
“It’s pretty common unfortunately,” said Hughes, who said he’s investigated probably a dozen similar cases over the years.
Hughes said he couldn’t say if the fire that burned Steward’s Saks shop was tied into the investigation. Although the Anniston Fire Department initially did not suspect foul play, the case is now being investigated by the state fire marshals.
The recent complaints go back to at least October, but Hughes said this isn’t the first time Steward has found himself on the wrong side of the law. Court records show Steward has been charged with theft of property multiple times in the past.
“He has a history of doing this sort of thing,” Hughes said.
Minyard said when she got into contact with Steward, she tried researching him on the Internet, concluding that the man seemed to be reputable based on her dealings with him.
“He was very detailed, he asked for serial numbers and everything,” she said. “He’s good, I’ll give him that.”
Hughes said cases like this highlight the importance of making sure you know who you’re doing business with. But for those who already got scammed, it might be a lesson learned the hard way.
“I don’t think I’ll ever see that money again,” Minyard said.
Steward is being held at Calhoun County jail with a $90,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 9.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.