ABERDEEN, North Carolina - More than a dozen classic car owners, including many soldiers, say they are out thousands of dollars thanks to Icon Customs, a car restoration shop in Aberdeen, North Carolina.
"I've spent the last two weeks scouring for my parts," said Nick Bortnick, whose 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback was supposed to be restored at Icon Customs.
Nick dropped his car off back in 2015 where he says at first all he wanted to be done was sandblasting the car, painting it with primer, and undercoating his vehicle. He paid $1,500 for that work, and then the owner of Icon, George Fredericks, surprised Nick with some big news -that they would restore his car free of charge.
Nick was told he would be the first soldier to have his car restored under what's known as the 'Wheels from Valor' program. It was a program Frederick said he started at Icon. Hearing this news, Nick says he was ecstatic.
However, that excitement began to fade after he says little progress was made on his Mustang and month after month went by. Nick says he supplied many parts to Icon and would try and help in any way since he knew the 'Wheel from Valor' program was going to help him get his car back to being restored.
After two years of waiting, Nick finally went to Icon to get his car. He says it was heartbreaking.
"When I picked up the car, it was actually sitting in that corner behind you jammed behind a lot of these cars that are torn apart," he recalled.
More vehicle owners claim work not done
Alan Lancaster, another soldier, says he was also taken advantage of by Icon Customs.
Alan now lives in California. But while stationed at Fort Bragg, he took his red 1966 Mustang Coup to Icon in 2014.
For Alan, this was more than just a car. It was his first car; it was a priceless car. He paid $17,000 to Icon to bring his Mustang back to being roadworthy. In August 2015, after returning from a deployment Alan said he was disappointed that his car was not finished after writing so many checks. It was then he said Fredericks told him that Wheels from Valor would be taking Alan's project to the next level in appreciation for his service.
Alan was thrilled, but two years later this is how Alan's car looks after being at Icon since 2014.
"The car that I once had running and driving to no longer being close to that," he said.
Soldiers weren't the only ones asking questions. BJ Beal paid Icon $5,000 to do some body work and paint his 1977 Ford Mustang Cobra. However, he says two years later he is left with a big mess.
BJ explained the rear end of his car, which was already done, and he says should have never been touched, is completely gone. This is what his car looks like now.
"I don't even know if I will - or when I will - be able to do anything with it. That's the frustrating part," said BJ.
For owners like BJ, restoring their car was something they say they saved up years to be able to do. They had taken their cars to Icon to see their dream come to life. Now, many are left wondering if they will ever have a chance to see that dream again. Others are left frustrated over not only having their dream shattered but the financial loss this tragedy has cost them.
One vehicle owner, who asked us not to use his name, says he paid Icon more than $30,000 to restore his 1964 Chevrolet C-10. He has a stack of invoices that show the new parts he paid for, but after waiting for two years, his truck was left looking like this.
Another issue the vehicle owner faces is over the VIN number; it's missing from his truck. He told us that Fredericks told him he removed the VIN number to work on restoring his truck, but says when he talked with the DMV they informed him that's illegal.
Action against Icon Customs
The Aberdeen Police Department, the NC DMV License and Theft Bureau, and the SBI are now involved after receiving several complaints. According to the police report from the Aberdeen Police Department, more than a dozen customs of Icon Customs complained about work not being done on their vehicles.
A representative with the DMV shared with us this statement:
"On 08/21/2017, NCDMV License and Theft Inspectors received information that Icon Customs was compromising vehicles by switching and or removing PVINs. A PVIN is known as a Public Vehicle Identification Number.
By using the statutory authority granted by the North Carolina General Statues, Inspectors entered the business located at 10570 NC Hwy 211 East in Aberdeen. Once inside, Inspectors located the owner George Steven Fredericks working in a back shop area. Inspectors located in the back shop area where Fredericks was working the vehicle that was described to Inspectors as having the PVIN compromised.
The vehicle had PVINs from two different vehicles, and with the observations made by Inspectors, it was evident that Mr. Fredericks had used two different PVINs that were removed from other vehicles. The investigation also revealed that Mr. Fredericks had a long line of customers that he has not delivered vehicles as promised.
Inspectors were able to determine that Mr. Fredericks also possessed vehicles that belonged to customers that the PVINs were removed. The DMV License & Theft Bureau is also investigating claims surrounding a charity/raffle/lottery program purportedly run by Mr. Fredericks called 'Wheels for Valor'."
The DMV's investigation is ongoing, and the SBI confirms they're also involved. While the investigation remains ongoing, Icon Customs is shut down. The big task that lies ahead is getting all the vehicles and their pieces back to their rightful owners.
Owner of Icon Customs Responds
The owner of Icon Customs is George Fredericks. He sat down with me along with his wife and attorney for more than two hours to explain what he says happened. Fredericks was adamant he did not do anything criminally wrong, and that the DMV won't find anything illegal. He does admit to taking off the PVIN numbers on some of the vehicles he was working on but says it was only during the restoration process. He says there was never any criminal intent.
He does admit some of the vehicles did take longer than expected. He says he did all of the work that the four customers I talked with paid for, and for their vehicles to be fully restored more money was still owed. He says the reason why the restoration did not get done on time was because he says he could not hire competent workers to do the work. Fredericks admits to taking on too many jobs when he still had several jobs to finish.
When it comes to the Wheel from Valor program, he says he started that to only help soldiers. He says the reason why no soldier's vehicles were ever completely restored through the program was that there was not enough money raised. He says while he did sell raffle tickets, have a car cruise-in, and also had a GoFundMe page for the Wheels from Valor program, he said it did not bring in much money at all.
For example, even though tickets were sold for the car raffle, he says no car was ever raffled off because only $1,520 worth of tickets were sold. He says the car cruise in made no money since it cost so much for insurance. Fredericks said the GoFundMe only raised $575.00.
He does admit that a paint company paid him $20,000 for paint that would go towards the soldier's vehicles. Fredericks said that money was for him, and he donated it all to the Wheels from Valor. When I asked him which vehicles that money was used for, he said Icon Customs spent well over $100,000 on parts and labor for soldiers vehicles that were part of the program. Fredericks says he wanted nothing more to help these soldiers, and he feels bad the program never took off to restore their vehicles.
He says he has apologized to many of the customers whose vehicles are not done and are still in pieces, but he said many of them were ready to be painted, so that's why they were completely gutted out.
He says he still wants to do their jobs but has had a tough time getting back into the shop. He says once the DMV shut down Icon Customs, he has not been allowed back in until this past Friday. He says for those weeks he was not allowed in the shop, he says customers came in and took many of the parts that did not belong to them. The bottom line, Fredericks says he believes someone is setting him up, and he hasn't done anything wrong except take longer than expected on restorations.
At this point, vehicles are still in the warehouse where Icon Customs rented.