Thousand Palms, Calif. - Small business owners across the Coachella Valley say they've been getting scammed by Theresa Darrah for years.
We found dozens of cases and judgments against her in civil court, yet she's still allegedly preying on new business owners, convincing them to write her post-dated checks and then not delivering on her promises of service.
Steven Kowalsky says he was sold a bill of goods by Darrah. The hair stylist paid her $1500 dollars thinking she would advertise his business on restaurant table tops across the Coachella Valley in October.
"She was bragging about herself," Kowalsky said, "That she was going on "Shark Tank" next month because this table top business was going so crazy and it's the best way to advertise."
Now five months later, Kowalsky says his ad is in one restaurant far from his Cathedral City business, P.S. I love Your Hair.
Realtor Judy Glenn says she was led to believe by a persuasive Darrah that the $2000 dollars she paid her would get her business advertised in 25 restaurants.
"Now maybe I'll be on one," Glenn said. "And I'm not even sure if that's going to happen to tell you the truth. She's never contacted me since. I haven't talked to her since that first week."
Last week, we were contacted by a business owner who wrote three checks to Darrah totaling nearly $2000 dollars. Darrah convinced this now embarrassed and afraid business owner to post date two checks with a verbal agreement Darrah would not cash them until April and May.
"The following morning we noticed on our bank account that all three checks had cleared," said the business owner who asked not to be identified. "She has collected funds for all three."
Encouraging people to post-date checks, then immediately cashing them is a move Darrah has been accused of making by others who say they've been tricked by her over the years.
"When she cashed both of them, we had to scramble to pay the bills that that money was supposed to go to," said Amanda Walker-Bradshaw. "She didn't seem to care."
Walker-Bradshaw and her husband Scott Bradshaw took Darrah to small claims court and won a judgment against her two years ago. Bradshaw says Darrah has not paid them any of the court awarded money.
"We were burned. She robbed us," Walker-Bradshaw, of CV Automotive, said. "I don't think she actually provided any services, honestly. I think she just took our money and that was the last she did any dealings with us."
Reached by phone, Darrah says 90 percent of her clients are happy and she's been in business for nearly 15 years.
More than a decade ago, Darrah put table tops with advertising in the 19th Hole. Paula Daniels, co-owner of the Palm Desert bar and restaurant, says they stopped doing business with Darra at least 10 years ago, and people still come in asking why their ads are not on the tables.
A legal expert and a law enforcement officer say part of the problem in prosecuting Darrah is that the written contracts she writes up are vague, not specifying the same amount of advertising that business owners say Darrah verbally promises them.
A check of the public access records in the Riverside Superior Court system for Indio shows at least 32 cases against her dating back to 2004.
"To know she just continues on, its really frustrating," Walker-Bradshaw said. "She feeds off people who are vulnerable."
Darrah says she's going to get her new clients table top ads in the Blue Coyote Restaurant. General Manager Kami French says the Blue Coyote paid Darrah more than 2600 dollars for tables, and advertising for the Blue Coyote last summer, and none have been delivered. "She offers one excuse after another," French said.
If tables don't arrive this week, French says the Blue Coyote will pursue a small claims court case against Darrah, placing them in a growing line of people trying to get their money back.
Darrah denies any wrong doing. Meanwhile, some of the people she has done business with say they'll do everything they can to make sure others learn from their mistakes.
"I don't want her doing business in this town," Kowalsky said. "I don't want her screwing other businesses."