WARNING: THIS IS GOING TO BE A VERY VERY LONG BLOG. HOWEVER, IT IS WORTH READING AS YOU WILL SEE WHEN YOU READ IT. SORRY, I CAN’T SAY AT THIS POINT IN THE BLOG WHY IT IS IMPORTANT FOR OTHERS TO READ IT.
During all this fun we were having, I had two eye surgeries to have the floaters in my eyes removed. Both surgeries left me with bloody looking eyes for about a week after each one so we tried to limit my public exposure during those times. I can’t even describe how creepy I looked with my blue eyes surrounded totally by blood red where the whites use to be.
I tell you this because it was after the second eye surgery, right after the garage sale, when my eye was at its most bloody looking that we found “the perfect RV for us”. We had only been doing “research” on RVs up to this point when the day after the last eye surgery I found on Craigslist a 1997 40 foot Holiday Rambler diesel that had been updated to a 2009 interior. The floors were granite, sofas were leather and was a diesel pusher for only $40,000. It was near Houston, Texas and I thought we should make a road trip to see this one. Even if we weren’t ready to purchase we realized this might be too good to pass up. I was on sick leave from eye surgery so I was off work already for a few days. I called my husband, sent him the information about this RV and said: “Let’s take a trip to see this one.”
This was around 10 am one day and by noon that same day we were on the road to check it out. This spur of the moment road trip is not how we normally operate. I like to plan and Roy likes plenty of notice so this was very unusual for us.
During our 5 long hours of driving, we discussed many things including making sure we took precautions like checking the seller’s driver’s license to make sure it matches the title. We brought cash with us for a deposit since the pictures and all we learned were so enticing. We pulled up at this million-dollar mansion behind a huge brick fence with a remote-controlled gate. We instantly felt better when we saw this beautiful home because surely it was all legitimate. We pushed the button and told them we were there. They opened the gate for us to enter. We noticed a shabby appearance to the landscaping which made their story of falling on hard times more believable. But then we saw the RV and forgot everything else!
When we originally spoke on the phone they told us that they were financially strapped and selling the RV was a good way to raise some quick capital. That all made sense to us and when we saw the house we felt better. Upon seeing the RV we were almost immediately sold. When we went in it was even nicer than the pictures. Granite floors, new leather sofas, 1 slide and they were only asking $40,000.00. It was, of course, a 1997 but you wouldn’t know that from the renovated interior. After hearing it run fine and really looking it over well Roy said we’ll think about it and we prepared to leave. After we got in the car and drove around to the front of the mansion Paula was still outside but by the front door of the mansion. Roy told her the most we could do was $20,000 and she said the lowest they could was $35,000. About 5 minutes down the road we got a call from the man, Rick Gonzales. He said he’d take $30,000 for it. Roy said you’re at $30,000 and I’m at $20,000, how about we meet in the middle. Roy and Rick agreed on $25,000. Roy watches all those shows where they go back and forth over the price and it seemed to be paying off! We were ecstatic, we were getting a great RV for $25,000.
We drove back to the mansion where the RV was located. Knowing we needed to take some precautions I asked to see the lady’s driver’s license and the RV title. They looked fine to me, though she did look a little young in the driver’s license. Once we were satisfied with everything we gave them a large cash deposit and they gave us a bill of sale showing the deposit and that we’d pay the remainder within 15 days. Since we had started the financial process with our banker of the phone on our way to Conroe we decided to stay overnight (totally unprepared) hoping we could finish it up the next day.
We had not planned to stay overnight and didn’t bring a change of clothes, toothbrushes or ANYTHING. We found a very cheap hotel nearby that didn’t provide complimentary shampoos or even have a hairdryer like we’re used to having at hotels. The hot water must have been used up by others at this cheap hotel before we got to it in the morning so all I could do was stick my head in the shower, wash it with a bar of soap and dry my hair over the air conditioning vent. I put on my well-used clothes from the day before and between my lovely looking hair and my bloody blue eyes, I looked like a crazed possibly homeless woman. I’m sure my husband was so proud to be seen with me when we went to breakfast before heading to the bank!
Our bank had a branch in a nearby city in Texas. Our bank officer Barbara, in Louisiana, worked with the Texas branch after breakfast that day to get our loan transaction completed so we could take the RV home the following day. I asked our banker to please let the Texas branch know in advance I don’t normally look like I did that day! The people at the branch were very nice to us during the long visit we had with them. Our loan processing went well and we got approval in the early afternoon. While we were waiting we arranged insurance for the RV with our State Farm Agent back home. I called Rick Gonzales several times during the day to get information the Bank needed. He was generally cooperative but as we neared lunchtime he got kind of pushy about when we’d be bringing him the money. He needed us to give him the entire amount in cash as his bank would put a 10-day hold on the check and he needed the funds now. We arranged for that and tried to meet every requirement he put out.
In the late afternoon, Paula brought the RV title and Paula’s driver’s license to us at the bank. She owned the RV and Rick Gonzales was her boyfriend. Our banker questioned the appearance of the title since it looked different than the ones we are used to seeing in Louisiana. The branch there confirmed that is how a Texas title looks like. When our banker compared the two documents she noticed that there was a misspelling on the title compared to the driver license by one character. What was an l on one was an i on the other. Because of this, she said we’d need a one in the same affidavit. She also noticed that the title showed the RV was one year older than our Bill of Sale. We asked Paula to draw up a new bill of sale and go get a notary to provide her with a one in the same affidavit saying that Paula Baltadano was the same person aS Paula Baitadano. This is a very common occurrence and didn’t think she should mind doing it. She said she would and left the bank.
We waited two hours for her to come back and finally Rick called us. He said Paula would not be coming back and they shouldn’t have to help us get our loan, we just needed to come up with the money. I explained to him that we had our loan already and that they would have this same problem with anyone they sold it to because the problem was with their title. He started getting ugly with me on the phone and I started sensing something was really wrong. Roy and I were sitting in the middle of the bank (which had closed the lobby doors by this time) with the Texas banker and their security officer within hearing distance. I told him that we’d just come and get our cash deposit bank and call the deal off. He got really ugly and said no we won’t be giving your deposit back. He said, “You’ll bring us the rest of the money to pay for the RV” and hung up on me. I was shaking horribly and Roy listening was white as a sheet.
We quickly told the banker that we wouldn’t be making the loan and asked their security guard where the police department was. During the time Rick hung up on me and the time we left I contacted Barbara, our banker in Louisiana and told her what happened. I asked her to fax to me a letter from her saying our loan was approved and the only hold up was the seller’s documentation. She also faxed a copy of Paula’s driver’s license and the problematic RV title.
We knew we had to go back to their house to get our money. We also knew our only hope to do that was to get a police escort. We headed over to the Conroe, TX police department. Since it was after hours we explained through a speaker in the wall what we needed and in about 10 minutes an officer pulled up in front. We explained to him what we needed, showed him our documentation and he said for us to follow him to the house. We didn’t know it until we got there but the police department already sent another car over to the house as soon as we gave the person behind the speaker in the wall the address.
When we pulled up to the iron gate in front of the home we saw the other officer’s car. We called the house from the entry station out front and got no answer. Roy called them on the phone and after several rings, Paula answered. I gave the phone to the officer that was with us and he spoke to her for a while. He told her they needed to give the money back and gave her various scenarios if they didn’t. He could have the district attorney seize the RV and give it to us for the money we already gave them, he could have her arrested and other things. She hung up on him!!!!!!!! We knew for sure this was going south for sure at this point.
The officer went to the mailbox and checked the name on the mail inside. It did not match. He called for back up. Shortly after he placed the call several police cars pulled up and out came what looked like SWAT officers. They had bulletproof vests over their uniforms and big machine gun type guns. They surrounded the wall and after one found a way in through the golf course in the back they all went in and hid for a while. An officer arrived with a search warrant – man I thought it only happened that fast on TV. The original officer went up to the door, Paula answered and she came outside to talk to him. We were still outside the gate and couldn’t hear anything but saw the heavily armed policemen enter the house. My biggest concern through this waiting time was her five children inside seeing it all happening. I wanted to get them out of there but had no control over all that.
It was a huge house and one of the officers came out to tell us they were searching for it and that would take a while. After about another hour the officer came out to tell us that they found Rick hiding under his desk holding a bunch of money. Quite a picture, since he was a stocky short man I had difficulty imagining him fitting under a desk. They said they were sure we’d eventually get our money back but it would probably have to go through the judicial system because it would be held as evidence. That was our first glimmer of a little hope!
They searched for a while longer, spoke to Paula outside for a while longer, meanwhile, we were sitting in our car texting everyone we knew and posting all about it on Facebook. We were hungry, tired, stressed out, dirty from not bathing and wearing old clothes and just wanted it all to be over. About three hours after it all started two officers came out from the gate holding some money!! He said they made a deal with them. In exchange for them giving us our money back, the police wouldn’t charge Rick and Paul with the crime they committed against us. They said that the documents our banker provided us, and what they saw when they arrived, gave them reasonable cause to enter the grounds around the house. Gosh, we were feeling very NCIS worthy around that time! The original officer told us that what started out as a routine escort turned into a major bust and thanked us for coming to them.
They brought Paula out in handcuffs at one point and she was just screaming in Spanish at the officers.
It turns out the officers found in the search that multiple crimes were going on in the house. As one officer put it “Whatever you can imagine is going on in that house is probably going on.” All he could say was that there were drugs involved, falsifying documents and a lot of online crime – guess who got wrapped up in that last one with them – The Chauvin’s! The police didn’t need our little crime since they had so much against them so we signed for the money and got our money back!!!!!!!!!!! Roy and I were absolutely stunned but ecstatic at this turn of events. God was certainly looking out for this couple that night, as He always does.
When the officers told me we could leave, we were out of there! We drove the five hours back home, stopping about halfway to pick up a part for the toad that Roy had previously purchased on eBay. After calling the elderly man who sold it when we were on our way out of Conroe, the man said to come no matter what time of night it was. Before we got there the man put on a fresh pot of coffee for Roy. What wonderful people they were. I stayed in the car and the wife came out in her robe and asked me to come in. I was so exhausted I couldn’t move so she gave me a hug and went back inside. They were so caring and concerned and it meant so much to us after the experience we had just endured. By the way, the part Roy bought from them didn’t fit his truck when we got home!! He has since then sold the part on eBay to someone whose vehicle it will fit.
When we got home I think we slept for 24 hours we were so drained and still in a state of shock from our experience. How could two intelligent adults be so bamboozled as to not see what was happening from the first? We realized that we wanted it a little bit too much and got swept up in the whole thing, putting caution outback instead of upfront. Had our banker not been so conscience and looking out for the bank and our best interest we would have lost our money and had a real set back in our RV dream.
The Conroe, Texas police department and our Whitney Bank officer, Barbara Davis were phenomenal in the care they gave to us and in handling their responsibilities. We wrote letters to the Conroe Police Chief and Mayor telling of their speedy response and how caring they were of us, two scared strangers from Louisiana. We let Whitney Bank know about Barbara’s actions and they honored her for protecting both our interest and that of the bank. People like these folks need to be recognized for their exceptional service and I’m glad we did that.
We learned later that the couple was both arrested and bailed out. When they did they went back to house. Turns out they were renting the house paying cash to an elderly couple who lived nearby. After bailing out they took everything in the house, even the appliances and left town in the RV! The FBI is now involved because their crimes were internet crimes covering several states. They’ve been arrested for this before and left town each time.
I said originally it was important for others to read this because they are on the loose again and will most definitely try to pull this or some other internet crime on someone else. The phone number it seems they use in most of their dealings, and ours, was 832-696-3741 so if you see anything being sold on the internet associated with that phone number, call the Conroe, TX police department – or better yet, let us know – we’d love to help put them behind bars so they don’t hurt anyone else!
ONE DAY CLOSER TO OUR DREAMS!!!!!!!!!! – NOW TO FIND A LEGAL RV TO PURCHASE!