Michele Mele, of Newington, has struggled to get around for years. She suffers from lung disease and lymphedema and relies on a wheelchair at home and a less than reliable SUV to go back and forth to therapy.
"My car was rattling and shaking and squeaking," describes Mele.
On a whim, she entered Rock 106.9's Custom Coach Contest. It offered up to $10,000 worth of auto repairs for a person in need and she won.
"I was so grateful that someone would do something that nice for somebody," said Mele.
But a contest that promised to build dreams was nothing short of a nightmare for Mele. She says promises of a much-needed wheelchair lift, paint job and even a quick vacuum were broken.
"When they brought the car around, I almost burst into tears. Nothing was done to it, it looked exactly like it did when they came to pick it up," Mele said.
According to the radio station's website, three small Connecticut businesses teamed up for the contest. K&J Auto in Wolcott would repair any mechanical issues. PN Auto in Cheshire would repaint and detail the winning car, while Custom Coach in Southington promised customized work, like a lift.
The radio station promoted the contest and these businesses for weeks.
"As far as WCCC listeners know, somebody won the contest and somebody got the prize. That didn't happen," explained Mele.
Mele turned over the keys to her car on August 8. No timetable was specified in the contest rules, but she says she was told her new and improved ride would be revealed at Custom Coach's car show on August 19. But the 19th came and went with few apologies and requests for more time. Mele says after 21 days without a way to and from therapy, she had had enough.
"I was getting sicker and it was really bad. I needed my car back," said Mele.
She says it took several days of unanswered and unreturned phone calls before Chris Caldarola from Custom Coach got back to her. Before she got the keys though, she was asked to sign a contract that read "Custom Coach and 106.9 WCCC are not responsible for any promises and/ or work that was not done."
"I was heartbroken. I was grateful that the one place, K&J Auto in Wolcott, did do the work and fixed all the mechanical stuff," said Mele.
Receipts show K&J Auto in Wolcott finished replacing Mele's brakes, struts, serpentine belts and catalytic converter on August 28 to the tune of about $2,300. But Mele says P&N Auto and Custom Coach didn't do a thing to her car.
The Troubleshooters wanted to know why a contest was promoted and sponsored by WCCC, yet the prize was unfulfilled by two of the sponsoring businesses. A sales representative from WCCC hung up on the Troubleshooters when we called for answers, and was not available when we stopped by.
Messages were left for the General Manager the station and President of Marlin Broadcasting, the company that owns the radio station. Still no phone calls were ever returned.
At PN Auto in Cheshire, owner Zibby Kruszewski says he never saw Mele's car. He was supposed to pick it up after Custom Coach was finished with it. When asked if he would still uphold his end of the deal, Kruszewski was eager to do so, saying all he wanted to do was help someone in need.
The same couldn't be said at Custom Coach. The Troubleshooters caught up with Caldarola at his store in Southington. He says Mele wasn't patient enough and didn't give him enough time to complete the work. Caldarola says he only has the car three days to do two weeks’ worth of work.
He declined to go on camera after speaking with his lawyer, but did talk to us in his office, saying "the contest was run with 3 businesses that had other work that had to get done. Mele's car was not a priority of work to be done."
When the Troubleshooters told him PN Auto was willing to uphold their end of the deal, Caldarola said, "I'll make sure that changes. Because that woman doesn't have an ounce of gratitude."
PN Auto assured the Troubleshooters they are still standing by their promise.
Mele said she struggled with her decision to tell her story, but says it's important that people know what happened to her, in hopes it doesn't happen again.
"I don't understand how someone could promise something like that and then just poof, turn around and totally ignore me. It was cruel," said Mele.
The Department of Consumer Protection is now investigating Mele's complaint about the contest.