A Ramona family took a salesman at his word, and got stuck with $600 of what the family says is "inedible" frozen food.
The Hubbard family isn’t the first to regret buying boxes of meat and seafood from a door-to-door salesman; NBC 7 Investigates recently uncovered the case of a North Park woman who made the same mistake, but, with help from our Investigates team, got a full refund from the company.
But the Hubbards paid much more for a freezer full of beef, chicken, pork and seafood. With a large family and a limited income, they told us they cannot afford to keep a huge supply of food that they claim is unfit to eat.
Jim and Tanya Hubbard recall that when the salesman appeared at the door last October, they were very skeptical about his sales pitch.
The Hubbards had purchased frozen meat before, only to find that “freezer burn” made it inedible. But this time, the price was very tempting.
"All of that normally cost $1,200,” Tanya says of the boxes and boxes of frozen steaks, burgers, pork ribs, chicken breasts and assorted seafood. “But he said he’d give us this great deal, at 600 bucks, total."
And when the Hubbards told salesman Dalton Nichol that they had only $400 cash because Tanya was waiting for her paycheck from the Army reserves, they say Nichol thanked them both for their military service, let them write a check for the balance, and promised not to cash it for at least 10 days.
Jim Hubbard had told Nichol that he is a retired Army veteran, who currently works as a civilian in the Coast Guard.
Hubbard says Nichol responded: “You're serving our country; I'm here to serve you."
The Hubbards also told NBC 7 Investigates that Nichol’s compliments, his ability to answer every question they had about the product, and his willingness to overcome every obstacle that stood in the way of the sale – including his offer to scrape the ice off the shelves of their garage freezer to make room for all those boxes – sealed the deal.
A few days later, the Hubbards invited neighbors over, to sample the barbecued pork ribs.
Tanya Hubbard recalls how the pork ribs were inedible.
"They were all fat, greasy, like gnawing on a piece of rubber," she recalled in a recent interview in the family’s living room.
Jimmy Hubbard, the youngest of the couple’s six children, remembers how that meat was “… hard to chew, and hard to swallow."
The family says the chicken tenders were equally bad; nearly all tasteless coating, covering very small pieces of chicken.
Jim Hubbard says, “At that point, I think we had decided you know, we're going to have to make good on his money back guarantee."
But this time, there was no help from Dalton Nichol, owner of "Dalton's Beef, Pork and Seafood."
"We would call, and call, and call, and he wouldn't answer the calls,” says Jim Hubbard.
Just as bad, the Hubbards also learned that Nichol had not held their check, as he’d promised.
Instead, it cashed it just hours after leaving their home, by taking it to a check-cashing store that repeatedly submitted it for payment, to the Hubbard's credit union.
Tanya hadn't received her Army reserves paycheck yet, so the check they’d entrusted to Nichol was rejected by their bank. And each time the check-cashing store resubmitted it to the credit union, it bounced again.
"Yeah, four times, with $30 fees, each time," says Tanya.
The Hubbards complained to the Better Business Bureau and considered suing Dalton Nichol in small claims court, but couldn't find him to serve him the legal paperwork.
Neither could the BBB, which was trying to contact Nichol for a response to customer complaints about his sales tactics and the poor quality of product. (The Better Business Bureau’s website gives Dalton's meats an "F" grade, the lowest possible, and warns consumers not to buy any products from door-to-door salesmen, because the quality is too risky, and it's sometimes impossible to get a help when you have a problem.)
But NBC 7 Investigates tracked him down to his current location, in a cell at the downtown San Diego County Jail.
In a 50-minute interview, Nichol admitted that “when [the Hubbards] tried to contact me, I had relapsed. I'm an addict."
Nichol explained that he’s been addicted to crack-cocaine for 30 years, and court records reveal he has a rap sheet that also dates back to 1982.
Those records include felony and misdemeanor convictions for burglary, grand theft, reckless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia and numerous petty thefts with priors.
When we showed Jim Hubbard a copy of Nichol’s arrest record, he responded with a mixture of surprise, anger, and resignation.
But in that jail house interview, Nichol repeatedly said he sold a good product, and had many happy customers for his frozen foods. He said he said he gives customers free exchanges, if they don't like a particular package, but insisted that he never offered the Hubbards, or any other customer, a cash refund.
“We don’t do a money back guarantee,” Nichol insisted.
But Nichol did readily admit that he violated the Hubbard’s trust by not responding to their complaints and even worse, by cashing that check before he should have.
"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses,” Nichol told NBC 7 Investigates. “I don't do that. They're a good family, and I apologize."
Nichol also promised to pay the Hubbards more than $700, for their loss. He said he’ll begin making payments when he finishes a court-ordered drug treatment program.
And he said his long career in door-to-door sales is over.
“The meat business is for me is fast money, and has lead me to relapse too many times. It's just not for me," he added.
Jim Hubbard accepts Nichol's apology, and told us, he's "cautiously optimistic" that Nichol will honor his promise and pay the family back for its loss.
No matter the outcome, Jim and Tanya say they learned an important less, the hard way.
"If there's some guy driving down the road in a truck with a bunch of meat, with a sob story about how he's got to sell this or he's not going to make his quota, or whatever, don't buy it,” Jim said. “Literally, don't buy it."