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FOX 5 I-Team investigates

Watch Brokers target of federal investigation

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ATLANTA -

A Buckhead business the I-Team first exposed is now the target of a federal investigation. Watch Brokers dealt in pricey time pieces until investigators shut them down. So, what's happening to the millions of dollars customers want back?

The case of Watch Brokers turned into a bigger situation than anyone could have imagined.  Investigators say millions of dollars have disappeared, thousands of watches are gone, and hundreds of hands may have been involved.

Sorting through high-end watches and time pieces has been an all-consuming job for investigators sifting through the mess that is the now-shuttered Watch Brokers consignment store.  

"This wasn't a couple of people.  It's hundreds and hundreds of people who got caught up in this.  That wasn't an accident. Clearly, these people knew what they were doing," said court appointed receiver Chris Tierney.

The I-Team found customers going back to 2011 who complained they brought in expensive watches to sell through Watch Brokers, and then couldn't get the money after they were sold.

"I'm not someone who just blindly hands over $10,000 worth of watches. They had a physical presence right in the middle of Buckhead, right on the corner, right next to what used to be a police substation.  And so I felt comfortable with the business at the time," said Watch Brokers customer Michael Brown.

But his time and patience were up when he complained, like many others did, to the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection that Watch Brokers sold two of his watches, refused to pay him, and then lost the third one.  

The Governor's Office of Consumer Protection legally held company president R.J. Bergh personally financially responsible for getting this business back on course.  He failed.  Watch Brokers continued to spiral and the state shut them down in September and put it into receivership.  Investigators were stunned to find out how much money had been squandered.

"Based on the number of watches that were sold on an average basis, you could easily be talking about a couple of million dollars," said Tierney.

But, it's been tricky finding the money and getting it back to angry customers.  Receiver Chris Tierney says they found 600 or so watches in the vaults, and will try to return them to customers for a fee.  

"They're going to have to pay $100 to get their watch back, but that pays for insurance, shipping, handling, packing, everything to get that watch out," said Tierney.

They have a third party dealer interested in buying some of them.  Keep an eye out for a letter in the mail. But, if your watch was sold and you didn't get paid, you're out of luck. The seized Watch Brokers bank accounts, he says, were empty. This is where federal investigators jump in: the US Postal Inspector is conducting a forensics investigation on company computers to see if they can find a money trail.  

"They had a business plan. They stole from people. And they didn't even have to use a gun to do it.   They stole my money while shaking my hand and smiling in my face," said Brown.

If you haven't received a letter and want to know the status of your case, call the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection at 404-651-8600.They will get you to the receiver who can find out the status of the case.

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