Frederick County Furniture Sellers Charged with Deception | Crime and justice
The Maryland attorney general’s office has accused Frederick County furniture sellers of misleading customers with false promises and changing their business name to evade refunds.
But one of the owners said the allegations were misinterpreted. “It’s nothing more than a bankrupt company,” said Christopher Engel.
The Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office filed complaints against Christopher Aaron Engel, his wife Karol Engel, Matthew R. Dihel, Urbana Custom Décor Limited Liability Company, Farmstead Custom Furniture LLC, and MOCHA Furniture Limited Liability Company.
The individuals and entities allegedly played a role in raising funds from customers to build custom furniture and either failed to deliver the products as promised or failed to issue refunds, according to a press release from the attorney general’s office on Thursday. .
The Engels and Dihel are charged with “unfair or deceptive commercial practices” in violation of consumer protection law, according to a statement of charges.
The Engels’ alleged wrongdoing dates back to late 2019 with the launch of Frederick-based Urbana Custom Decor. Farmstead Custom Furniture and MOCHA Furniture, listed at the same address in Thurmont, were other names used for essentially the same company during the program, the statement of charges shows.
According to the attorney general’s office, the defendant allegedly took deposits for custom pieces, apologized when products weren’t delivered on time, and sometimes provided furniture of lower quality than promised. A preliminary injunction was filed on May 5 to stop the defendants from taking advance payment from the furniture, according to court documents.
The attorney general’s office did not respond to questions on Thursday about the number of alleged victims and the amount of money that would be owed by the defendants.
Owner says customers turned on him
In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, Engel said information presented by the attorney general’s office had been “misinterpreted.”
He said he wanted to refund customers.
The Woodsboro resident was the “owner and/or director” of the three entities named in the case, according to the statement of charges.
Engel said some clients turned on him when they learned of his criminal history.
He pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced to 38 months in federal prison in 2014, according to online court records. He was ordered to pay more than $405,000 in restitution for defrauding people across the country through an investment firm scam, PennLive reported in 2014.
Once furniture customers learned of this, Engel said, some started canceling orders and spreading the word to others. He alleged that some customers wanted to “kill sales” because he is a criminal.
Engel also pointed to a former contractor he said worked with them under the Farmstead name.
He declined to provide the full name of the contractor.
“He promised us the world,” said Christopher Engel.
The subcontractor allegedly created shoddy parts that broke and failed to produce them at the volume Engels expected, according to Christopher Engel. The Engels fired him, he said.
Christopher Engel said he wanted to refund disgruntled customers, but couldn’t until he sold the merchandise. The debt got to a point where they couldn’t afford to declare bankruptcy, he said.
The attorney general’s office alleged that Christopher Engel chained clients for months, making excuses.
The alleged deception began with Urbana Custom Decor, which opened in winter 2019, according to the state of the charges.
The Engels allegedly took “large deposits” from customers and failed to deliver the furniture as promised, according to billing documents. The attorney general’s office said the Engels did not issue the requested refunds.
Then the couple started doing business as Farmstead around February 2020. Christopher Engel told the News-Post that they wanted to adopt a new name to grow and attract more customers. The attorney general’s office alleged the new name was an attempt to avoid aggrieved customers.
Dihel, of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, is said to have joined the latest iteration of the company as co-owner of MOCHA.
When former clients came knocking, Christopher Engel allegedly told them the ‘new’ company had a ‘new’ owner and owed them nothing, according to the attorney general’s statement, although he still owned and operated each of the companies involved.
An Ijamsville woman identified in court records allegedly paid more than $2,100 in deposits to the Engels for a custom table and credenza.
She repeatedly reached out to Christopher Engel for updates, and he provided various excuses, according to court documents. When the wife received the table – 10 months later – she said it did not reflect her order.
In April 2021, Christopher Engel allegedly told the woman that her business no longer existed and that she should contact Matt Dihel at MOCHA for the credential. The woman texted Dihel for months in a bid to complete her order, to no avail.
She took the Engels to small claims court, where she learned that Christopher Engel had given her a fake phone number and posed as Dihel, according to court documents.
The MOCHA website, still active Thursday afternoon, described “Chris” as someone who enjoyed restoring antique furniture as a hobby. The website called “Matt” a “master builder” with 25 years of experience.
A Disney-themed kitchen table was advertised at nearly $3,000 on the MOCHA website. A wine hutch with barn doors was listed at $2,450. A kitchen island costs $1,265.
“We are happy to share our passion for bringing the beauty of wooden furniture into your home,” the website reads.
Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller