AG's office goes after meat wholesaler for 'exploiting elderly, vulnerable'

By Chris Dickerson | Oct 3, 2016

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office has filed a lawsuit against a door-to-door sales company, alleging it coerced elderly and vulnerable West Virginians into purchasing meat they could not afford and in quantities they could not possibly consume.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 3 in Kanawha Circuit Court, names Thaxton Wholesale Meats LLC and owner Steve A. Thaxton as defendants.

“West Virginia’s elderly and vulnerable residents deserve the utmost respect – not coercion and exploitation,” Morrisey said in a statement. “Our investigative subpoena, as enforced by the court, revealed substantial evidence making for what we believe to be a very strong case against the defendant and his company.”

The lawsuit claims Thaxton defrauded and deceived customers through the door-to-door sale of beef, poultry, pork, seafood and other perishable foods. It engaged in thousands of sales without giving consumers a contract and notice of their unconditional right to cancel within three days.

The most extreme example involved an 83-year-old woman from Walton in Roane County. She purchased more than $12,000 in meat and two deep freezers from Thaxton between December 2013 and October 2014.

Other victims identified in the lawsuit lived in Parkersburg, Roanoke in Lewis County, French Creek in Upshur County and Durbin in Pocahontas County. One’s fear prompted him to post no trespassing signs and place his credit card with a trustworthy neighbor to prevent further purchases.

The lawsuit claims Thaxton denied responsibility for the unlawful actions of his salespeople. He claimed they were independent contractors, but the Attorney General’s investigation revealed ample evidence to prove Thaxton controlled their actions on behalf of the company, which was headquartered at his Jackson County home in Millwood.

The lawsuit alleges Thaxton violated the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act by financially exploiting elderly and vulnerable consumers, along with failing to provide written contracts and notify consumers of their three-day right to cancel.

Other allegations involve fraudulent and deceptive schemes, obstruction of the consumers’ right to cancel and violation of the implied warranty of merchantability, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit seeks a court order forcing Thaxton to return all money obtained as result of the company’s unlawful actions and provide refunds as appropriate to those victimized by its conduct. It also seeks a $5,000 civil penalty for each violation of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

The lawsuit says the AG's office investigated Thaxton in 2002 as well. He apparently stopped doing business then, but resumed the business in 2013.

The case was filed by Senior Assistant AG Norman Googel and Assistant AG Christopher W. Carlson. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 16-C-1505

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