Disappearing Deposits: Local realtor could lose license after complaints about not refunding rental deposits

MEMPHIS, Tenn. --It's supposed to be a one stop shop for renting a house.

"They said that they had hundreds of properties, and they would do all the work for me," said Jatina Scales.

One company, one application, one credit check, yet access to lots of homes.

Willoughby Realtors offers what sounds like an ideal solution for renters.

"She took the money and said she would hold the house for me, right," Terry Lemons said.

Except in the end, Lemons told WREG it was his money the company held on to.

"I earned that money. That was honest money right there," Lemons exclaimed!

Lemons moved to Memphis to be closer to family.

The disabled veteran says he paid $1200 to Willoughby Realtors in June for a home in Whitehaven.

"You know I fell in love with it."

But soon after, Lemons learned his dream home wouldn't become a reality.

Lemons explained, "I called back to check on the house and they said he had already rented the house."

Lemons says he had a hard time reaching anyone with Willoughby, plus it was the second time a deal had fallen through, so he decided to move on.

"I said they can`t do that. And so I said well, let me get my money back, and it just went on and on and on, I never got my money back."

Jatina Scales says she dealt with a man named Adam Willoughby, and asked for her $995 deposit back after finding the Raleigh home she was supposed to rent in horrible condition just days before move in.

"Initially they said they would give me a refund, and they kept giving me a runaround."

The single mother,  nurse and Army Reservist had just lost the love of her life, and relocated from Nashville to Memphis for a fresh start.

Scales explained, "Since her father passed away before she was born, I moved here with no help and I trusted these people and they had us living from hotel to hotel out of a U-haul."

Lemons and Scales took their complaints to state regulators and so did other customers.

WREG also obtained a copy of a police report filed by a customer who said she paid $1400 one day, and the company moved out of its office the next day.

Randy Hutchinson is with the Better Business Bureau.

They BBB wrote to the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs after getting so many complaints about Willoughby Realtors.

The letter, obtained by WREG, dated December 19, 2017,  reads in part, "We remained concerned about the number and nature of complaints that the company is receiving."

Hutchinson told WREG, "We`ve come close to issuing a consumer alert. The company has an F rating."

The Tennessee Real Estate Commission suspended Anthony Willoughby's license, effective January 16th, 2018.

According to the suspension order, Willoughby, who owns Willoughby Realtors, never provided a "sufficient explanation" for why his company took security deposits, but failed "to return" the money after the homes were suddenly unavailable just days before scheduled move-ins.

After reaching out to Willoughby's attorney, visiting his Germantown office, and the new leasing office on Raleigh-Lagrange road several days in a row, WREG never found employees, but rather broken windows, likely left behind by upset customers, who found us instead.

The NewsChannel 3 Investigators got numerous phone calls from Willoughby customers after leaving a business card in the door.

Some said they'd paid security deposits,  within recent weeks, but couldn't get in touch with anyone from Willoughby Realtors.

Based on this latest information, state regulators confirm they've opened an investigation into the entire company, and the Tennessee Real Estate Commission is looking to revoke Anthony Willoughby's license.

WREG finally caught up with Willoughby at his home.

He said, "The issues have come to my attention. My company primarily for 30 years has been a sales company, brokerage, and the leasing is something, an extension that has taken place in the last year or two."

Willoughby says while he takes responsibility for what happened, he doesn't run the day to day operations at the leasing office.

WREG asked, "Why let it get to this point, though?"

Willoughby replied, "I`ve told you what I know right now, so the legal team is investigating so once the things come to my attention I deal with them and it has and I`m dealing with it."

Dealing with it, according to Willoughby, also means refunds for customers.

WREG asked, "So these people will get their money back, after this?"

Willoughby said, "If it`s determined, that they, yes. If that is determined, correct."

"I just hope that everybody gets justice," said Scales.

Justice, customers say not only equals refunds, but action to assure it doesn't happen again.

"They still need to do something to him for taking people`s money that`s not right," Lemons said.

Anthony Willoughby appeared before the Tennessee Real Estate Commission Wednesday, February 7th.

He again, claimed the leasing office was a separate entity that he wasn't part of. He also said he hadn't been working as much after being diagnosed with cancer last year.

When asked though, Willoughby couldn't explain why he needed to refund customers' money if he didn't take it in the first place.

The Board voted to uphold the temporary suspension of Willoughby's license pending a formal hearing in March.

Both Lemons and Scales were offered refunds recently. In exchange, however, they said they would be required to sign a document dropping all claims against Willoughby. As of late this week, Lemons had accepted, Scales had declined.

WREG did some digging into the company's background and found Willoughby Realtors paid two fines to the state back in 2010 and 2011.

The state also investigated, but dismissed a complaint in 2013 for Willoughby's failure to supervise an unlicensed agent named Bernard Williams.

NewsChannel 3 has learned that same Bernard Williams was recently working at Willoughby's leasing office.

Several clients said they dealt with Williams in recent months and weeks.

The company's website now indicates it's under new management, with limited services.

Anthony Willoughby sent WREG a full statement Thursday evening, saying in part, "I shut down the leasing agency September 1, 2017. A family member opened a leasing agency under the same name of Willoughby Leasing which the public has associated with me"

In the emailed statement, Willoughby said he'd refunded seven deposits and doesn't know of anyone else entitled to a refund.

Willoughby said customers who paid money to "Willoughby Leasing" before September 1, 2017 should call 901-331-6547 or send documentation via fax to 901-896-2968.