Most stories I’ve heard about nightmarish business dealings will at some point usually contain the observation, “If I had known then what I know now, I would have never done business with them.” Betsy Penrose’s account of her experiences with Art Gallagher, the MoreMonmouthMusings.net blogger who currently resides in Monmouth County Jail, was no different. She included this remark when we sat down to discuss the lengthy and expensive turmoil she went through after entering a business agreement with Art. Unlike Art’s recent business activities in an unrelated fraud case in Delaware, Art’s treatment of Betsy has not been given any significant media attention. I thought more people should hear Betsy’s story, and I wanted this blog to provide her with a space to describe her ordeal.
Betsy’s experience with Art took place after she had been unemployed and searching for work, when she eventually decided that she wanted to start her own business. It was a business that she had long dreamed about but never gave much thought to, until it was evident that she was not going to find a job by the time her unemployment insurance ran out. After much discussion with her husband, Betsy decided that she would follow through on her long time dream of operating a food truck.
She started to research her dream by searching on Craig’s List, seeking information on what a food vending truck might cost. Those searches lead her to stumble upon an advertisement seeking individuals that would be interested in partnering up on the operation of one or more vending trucks. This potential opportunity peaked Betsy’s interest and it led her to Gallco Enterprises in Middletown and Art Gallagher, a meeting that turned her dream into a nearly two year long nightmare.
After a few months of back and forth communication and meetings between the two, Betsy thought it better if she just purchased the used vending truck from Art Gallagher and Gallco Enterprises, rather than entering into a further business relationship with him. She placed a $5000 deposit down on a vending truck and had to wait until February 2010, when she refinanced her home before she could give Gallagher another $5000 deposit to take the truck home.
On the day that she went to pick up the vending truck, Betsy was happy and excited to sign paperwork that appeared to be on the up and up, and get started on her new business of selling hotdogs and soup roadside.
It didn’t take long though for that happiness to wear off.
After starting up the truck and then pulling out onto the highway, Betsy noticed that none of the gauges on the dashboard were working. As a precaution, she stopped off to fill the gas tank at the nearest gas station before heading back to her home in Middlesex County. She was flabbergasted when the bill for the tank full of gas cost her $89; she had thought that Gallagher would have filled the tank as a courtesy.
Betsy was forced to stop several times on the way home because the truck was not running properly. The truck had difficulty climbing the incline of the Edison Bridge which spans the Raritan River. As she neared home, Betsy found herself stuck across 4 lanes of traffic after attempting to pull onto her street. The truck lost its steering before she got it home. She immediately called Gallagher to inform him of her situation. Gallagher told her to keep him posted and paid to have the steering fixed. During the course of the next few months however, the vending truck spent more time in the shop than on the road. Betsy Penrose, not even once, was ever able to serve a single hotdog or bowl of soup from the truck.
After giving Gallagher $10,000 and making 3 – payments on the truck, Betsy never gained possession of it. However, she had enough with the lemon that was sold to her, and requested that Gallagher refund her the monies that she had given him.
After several attempts at reclaiming her deposit, Gallagher repeatedly told her that she signed a valid contract and she would not receive any refunds.
Art’s obstructionism was not the only problem Betsy encountered. She contacted the Northern Monmouth County Chamber of Commerce (NMCC), but was told that they could not help her. Betsy’s feelings of frustration and helplessness from not having an operational vending truck and no source of income led her to an unconventional idea for possibly getting her deposits refunded on the vending truck. Betsy turned to the news media; she contacted Howard Thompson of WPIX Channel 11 News.
For those unfamiliar with Howard Thompson’s work, he produces a weekly segment titled “Help Me Howard”, where he helps those who feel they have suffered injustices or have been wronged in someway by unscrupulous, shady business owners or others that provide services, by confronting them on camera and demanding that they live up to the promises that were made to customers or clients.
After speaking with producers, it was decided that Howard Thompson, along with his “Help Me Howard” crew and Betsy, would confront Gallagher in his Middletown office one morning in April of 2010.
When they arrived at Gallco Enterprises, Thompson and his film crew were told that Gallagher was at the diner next store having coffee. As they walked through the entrance of the diner with cameras on, the crew had arrived in time to catch Art Gallagher attempting to flee the diner through the kitchen only to be turned back by employees and return to the booth at which he was sitting. When confronted by Howard Thompson and Betsy Penrose with repeated requests to return her money and make right on the vending truck, Gallagher stated that he had done nothing wrong and that the contract which Penrose had signed was valid. He then called police to get him out of the awkward situation he found himself in.
Before heading back to the studio, Howard Thompson assured Betsy in the parking lot that they had all the video they needed for his report and that his producers would be calling her about an airdate for the segment. When Betsy received the phone call from the producers later that day, she was told that her story would air the following day.
In her excitement to get the word out and expose Art Gallagher as a business person who was not to be trusted, Betsy Penrose made, what in hindsight, turned out to be a big mistake. Betsy called everyone that she could think of.
She called the Northern Monmouth County Chamber of Commerce (NMCC), the online newspaper The Atlantic Highlands Herald, the Two Rivers Times and any other local media or business group that she could think of. She even called the offices of the Monmouth County Democrats. Thompson himself was also promoting the segment on his “Help me Howard” facebook page.
The following day, word leaked back to Art Gallagher through his many friends at the NMCC and Atlantic Highlands Herald, that Betsy was contacting everyone to tune into that evening news. He went into defense mode and called the producers of the Howard Thompson’s “Help Me Howard” segment and WPIX to threaten legal action.
That night when Betsy turned on the news, looking to watch Thompson, Gallagher, and herself, she was dumbfounded and confused as to why the segment wasn’t aired. She called the producers the following day.
The producers assured her that the WPIX legal department signed off on the airing of the program segment but someone at the station had decided not to air it. When she pushed the matter further and questioned why someone would have pulled the segment after being approved by legal, she was told, “Let’s just say, Mr. Gallagher used all the right buzz words”.
Upset and disappointed, and feeling that Gallagher had robbed her once again, she decided that her final recourse was through the courts. Betsy cashed in her small pension that she had earned while working for the U.S. Postal Service, hired a lawyer and filed a civil suit against Gallco Enterprises to recoup her deposit and the 3 loan payments she had made on the vending truck.
Over the course of the next year, Gallagher drew out the court proceedings, requesting several postponements. It wasn’t until this past September 24th, that Betsy Penrose finally made it into a courtroom to face her adversary. However, Gallagher never showed up. The judge ruled in Betsy’s favor and awarded her triple damages, which equated to a judgment of more than $40,000 against Gallco Enterprises and Art Gallagher.
Betsy’s feelings of relief after the judgment were short lived. She quickly found out that, more than likely, she would never collect the money owed her. Gallagher had filed for Chapter 7-bankruptcy protection on July 14th, which seems to explain why he didn’t show up in court that day.
Penrose is not the only person that has gone to court with Gallagher this year. A quick Google search of court proceedings showed that Gallagher had been in court concerning other civil matters related to his business on 3 earlier occasions this year. He is also scheduled to be in court on Oct. 24th in yet another civil matter, but as he is currently awaiting extradition, it seems unlikely that case will proceed as scheduled.
Needless to say, Betsy deeply regrets getting involved with Gallagher and not checking him out fully before doing business with him. She has always considered herself a trusting person, who has always looked for the good in people as opposed to the bad. Never in her wildest dreams could she have thought that someone would take advantage of her in such a way as Art Gallagher had. It is a mistake that she learned the hard way, but it is a mistake she has vowed never to repeat.
What makes Betsy most upset about her experience is that she was ready to start her business when she bought the truck from him but the long fight over it killed her financially and affected her health. Her unemployment ran out, she amassed a large credit card debt and needed to refinance her mortgage while trying to recover from the setbacks that were caused by Gallagher. And due to the stress that she was under, Betsy spent two weeks hospitalized.
Walking back to her car, Betsy seemed to have resided herself to the fact that she may never recoup the money that she had given Gallagher. She has no money at this time available to hire an attorney in order to pursue a personal civil case against Art Gallagher, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of doing so in the future. She wants people to know that her motivation for telling her story isn’t to be vindictive. She wants others to learn from her mistakes, so that they can learn from her unfortunate experience and be wary of, in her opinion, unscrupulous business people like Art Gallagher.