The Texas Attorney General froze the assets of AGT American Silver and Gold March 1, and issued a temporary restraining order against the owners of the Austin-area company, which sells gold and silver bullion and coins.
Lora Maestre and Rick Maestre, also known as David Winston, among others, are named in the action for violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices – Consumer Protection Act for allegedly accepting payment for coins and bullion that the company never delivered.
Better Business Bureau began to investigate AGT American Silver and Gold last year, after it received complaints alleging some consumers paid thousands of dollars to the company for bullion and coins. Many of those consumers are still waiting for portions of their gold and silver orders.
The AG order cites many of the same concerns BBB found during its investigation.
The restraining order forbids the defendants from engaging in deceptive practices, including offering a “100 percent guarantee” and “full money back,” but failing to honor said claims, misrepresenting the amount of inventory the company had available, and failing to deliver gold and silver coins purchased by consumers.
In addition, the order prohibits the defendants from “accepting any orders for precious metal coins until further order of the court.”
Frank Chmielinski turned to BBB when AGT American Silver and Gold took approximately $100,000 for silver and gold coins, but only delivered approximately $30,000 worth of goods. He wanted to buy gold and silver bullion and coins to diversify his investment portfolio, and had dealt with AGT American Silver and Gold two years prior. At that time, he bought $5,000 worth of gold and silver coins and everything had gone smoothly.
“This is all his fault,” Chmielinski said about Richard Maestre, one of the defendants named in the AG suit. “I’m a customer; I sent him my money in good faith.”
Maestre apparently ran into financial difficulties leading up to the AG action March 1. In January, some consumers who had complained to BBB received a letter from American Silver and Gold, LLC explaining that when silver prices dropped to $27 per ounce from a high of $52 per ounce, the company started to have trouble securing inventory.
The letter also states the company does not have enough inventory to fulfill current orders.
“To accommodate the inventory backlog, we ask that you agree to a six (6) to nine (9) month delay in the shipment of your order,” the letter reads. It goes on to promise delivery of additional coins valued at 10 percent of each customer’s order, excluding bullion.
Though the letter went out to AGT American Silver and Gold customers, the company name on the letterhead was not AGT American Silver and Gold, but simply American Silver and Gold, LLC. BBB could not find any record of AGT American Silver and Gold registering the shortened name with the Texas Secretary of State or the Travis County Clerk, nor could it find a second company registered using the name American Silver and Gold, LLC.
Prior to the action, John Gleichauf, another AGT American Silver and Gold customer, worried that any publicity might derail a settlement he reached with the company last year.
He said he talked with a portfolio manager who worked for AGT American Silver and Gold and after sending the company more than $50,000 to buy gold and silver, he only got a handful of coins.
Maestre contacted him about the shortfall soon after Gleichauf complained.
“He stated that they were just really beside themselves because … this portfolio manager that I was dealing with was a crook, was an alcoholic and he was essentially destroying the business,” Gleichauf said.
Maestre agreed to refund Gleichauf’s money, but then did not follow through with the deal. Gleichauf got an attorney involved, and soon had an agreement for the gold and silver dealer to pay Gleichauf $8,000 a month. Then Maestre said he could only pay $2,000 a month. Then it went down to $200.
Gleichauf said that through January and February payments trickled in, most for a few hundred dollars each.
“I’m not sure how to evaluate all this, but he’s in arrears to the tune of 34 to 35 thousand dollars,” he said. Of his original payment, Gleichauf said he estimates he has gotten approximately $22,000 back.
Gleichauf said he believes Maestre’s claims that his problems were caused by a rogue portfolio manager. Chmielinski, the customer who paid $100,000 to buy bullion and coins from AGT American Silver and Gold, believes otherwise.
“He claims he’s trying to reorganize it, and he claims this and he claims that. … I just don’t believe all his babble.” Chmielinski said. “I’m ready to retire … and this guy is affecting that.”
Consumers who want to buy gold and silver bullion and coins should consider the following tips from BBB:
· Do your research. Before doing business with a gold and silver dealer, research the company thoroughly. Check the BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org, ask friends for references and check out any individual broker for government action.
· Do not believe inflated claims. Like any investment, gold and silver bullion and coin prices can be volatile. Avoid any company claiming such investments are a safe harbor and that downplays the risks involved.
· Buy from the source. The United States Mint sells bullion and coins to investors and collectors. Buy your gold and silver directly from the government.
· Do not count on appreciation. Many dealers sell gold and silver coins for an inflated price, promising the product will rise in value over time. Many consumers who buy those products lose money when gold and silver prices fall.
About Better Business Bureau:
BBB’s mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. BBB accomplishes this mission by creating a community of trustworthy businesses, setting standards for marketplace trust, encouraging and supporting best practices, celebrating marketplace role models and denouncing substandard marketplace behavior.
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Contact BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin at (512) 445-4748.