Police are investigating a Fort Collins jewelry store owner for allegedly keeping his patrons’ jewelry after going out of business.
The store, Aurifex, has been the subject of multiple complaints from former customers to the Better Business Bureau and Fort Collins Police Services, spawning an investigation and possible civil lawsuit between business partners.
Tracy Ryan, a CSU agricultural extension graduate student, says she was a victim of Aurifex.
She took her $3,500 engagement ring to have a ruby placed. When the store went out of business in October, Ryan says she wasn’t notified.
“When, after a long time, I did not get my ring back, I sent the store an e-mail and it got sent back,” she said. “I tried calling, but the voicemail box was full. I finally went to the store to find that it was closed. Then, I started to panic.”
When Ryan saw the “for lease” sign in Aurifex’s store window, she knew keeping the ring would be an uphill battle. But to her, the ring has great sentimental value.
“I was totally devastated,” she said of losing the ring. “I felt helpless. I kept trying to contact the store owner but couldn’t get through. I was afraid I would never see my ring again.”
Ryan immediately took action and filed a police report for her missing engagement ring.
Police records show Ryan is not alone. Other customers – eight in total – had to fight to have their jewelry returned. If not returned, it is estimated that $182,000 worth of merchandise and down payments would be missing.
Eric Griffin, a former owner of Aurifex, says a former partner stole his equipment and customer lists, along with all of the contact information. Although Griffin declined to comment, he said he plans to file a lawsuit against the undisclosed partner.
Ryan says that is not an excuse.
“The lack of communication is what made this an issue,” she said. “Even if his partner took off, a good businessman would have found a way to let his customers know somehow.”
Mike Tobias, one of Griffin’s former partners at Aurifex, says Griffin is targeting him. But he says Griffin is misleading customers.
“If he is claiming that I took the customer lists, that is a complete fabrication,” Tobias said. “This entire thing is ridiculous.”
Tobias, who left Aurifex in July after a disagreement with Griffin, says “taking off” with customer lists isn’t possible – because those lists are stored in an Internet database.
“I think this was Eric’s doing,” he said. “I’ve seen him make promises to customers and not follow through.”
The Rocky Mountain States Better Business Bureau revoked Aurifex’s membership in November after the company failed to respond to customer complaints. The BBB is processing six new complaints against Aurifex.
Griffin’s attorney, Linda Miller, says the alleged thefts stem from a dispute between two business partners – Griffin and another partner, not Tobias, whose name is undisclosed.
“The issues in this case are directly related to a particular partner, but Tobias knows he has a part in it as well,” Miller said.
Miller said Griffin is doing everything to return jewelry to the rightful owners, adding that no crime has been committed if everything is returned.
“All of the customers, except for maybe a few, have received refunds or their merchandise back,” Miller said. “We believe that the accusation that a lot of customers have been affected is based off of one or two disgruntled customers.”
Jewelry owners like Ryan are not sure whom to believe. Ryan says that although she is glad to have her jewelry returned, justice has not been served.
“I know a lot of people were affected,” she said. “We think a lot of people still don’t know that the store has even closed.”
Staff writer Taryn Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.