Judge forces Carolina Furniture to stop doing business in North Carolina; imposes $778K judgment
Raleigh: A North Carolina furniture dealer who took money for furniture he never delivered has been ordred to leave the furniture business in North Carolina and pay nearly $800,000 to the state, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.
“North Carolina’s furniture industry has a proud history, and I will not stand by while companies use that reputation to take advantage of consumers,” said Cooper. “This case involves a sad set of circumstances, but I hope it will serve as a warning to consumers and also to dealers who might be thinking about treating customers unfairly.”
At Cooper’s request, Wake County Superior Court Judge Henry W. Hight Jr. signed an order that permanently bars Henry R. Privette from working in the furniture industry in North Carolina. The order against Privette, who ran Carolina Furniture and Miller Burns International, was entered by the court yesterday. The judge also ordered that Privette, who has declared bankruptcy, pay a total of $778,723 to the state to provide refunds to Privette’s customers. It was unclear Wednesday whether Privette has assets to cover the judge’s ordered payment.
Today’s ruling resolves a lawsuit first filed by Cooper against Privette in 2003. The Attorney General’s Office took Privette to court to make him deliver the furniture he had sold or pay refunds to consumers after getting a temporary ruling barring Privette from taking additional orders until existing customers had received their furniture.
Cooper’s office received hundreds of complaints about Privette from consumers across the country. According to customers whose furniture orders did not arrive when promised, Privette failed to let them know that their items would be delayed. He also refused to give them the option of canceling for a full refund in violation of federal rules. In some cases, Carolina Furniture told consumers that their furniture was ready for delivery and accepted their full payment but still failed to deliver the furniture or pay refunds. Carolina Furniture continued to collect advance payments for furniture orders it never fulfilled despite warnings from the Attorney General’s office that the practice was illegal.
A typical complaint is that of a woman in New York state who paid half the cost for her furniture upfront. Months later, Privette called her to say that the furniture was ready but that she had to pay the $1,579 balance. The customer paid the amount and scheduled a delivery date. When the furniture did not arrive as scheduled, she called Privette and was told that her furniture would arrive by 8 PM. The furniture never arrived, and the woman never received a refund.
Privette’s business was an online operation that used a High Point address but was actually located in Calabash. In July of 2003, Privette’s companies filed for bankruptcy. Federal bankruptcy court found that he had hidden, falsified and mutilated business records in an attempt to hide his fraudulent activities.
“Both the furniture industry and furniture shoppers can learn some lessons from this case,” said Cooper. “We want customers to have a good experience when they buy North Carolina products, and we won’t tolerate companies that cheat consumers operating in our state.”