Erik Ketelaar, Wannabe GOP Bigwig, Under Fire from Clients of His Company Tio Sam Taxes
Erik Ketelaar (third from right) at the GOP gubernatorial forum he recently hosted. (From left, former California Congressman Frank Riggs, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, unidentified male, Erik Ketelaar, Christine Jones and Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey.)
Leslie Lara figures Tio Sam Taxes, owned by local Republican bigwig wannabe Erik Ketelaar, owes her about $1,267, the combined amount of her federal tax refunds for 2012 and 2013.
The company, which at one time had six locations in Phoenix and Mesa, heavily marketed its services to Hispanics, advertising on Univision and employing homeless people to dress as "Tio Sam" (Spanish for "Uncle Sam") and twirl signs on street corners.
Bilingual fliers for the business promised: "No charge until you receive your refund," which sounded good to Lara.
"They said they would take their fee when they received a check," she told me recently.
She showed me a copy of her 2013 tax return, which directed that her refund check be sent to a Tio Sam's location near 36th Street and Thomas Road in Phoenix.
The company instructed her to check back in about four weeks after the date on the return, April 2014.
At first, when she called, they told her they hadn't received her check yet. She gave it a couple of more weeks and started calling again.
One time, she says, she was told that the company had her check and that she could pick it up at a Tio Sam location on the west side.
But when she went on the date specified, the location was closed. She then traveled to what she thought was the main office, and it was closed, too.
When a woman finally answered the company's main line, she was of no help.
"She said, 'Oh, [the company's bank account] is frozen. There's nothing I can do,'" Lara explained.
Lara was one of about 25 people who gathered at a Methodist church in Phoenix recently to relate their Tio Sam stories to lawyers and representatives of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Local LULAC officer Lydia Guzman told me that her organization intends to turn over the information the group gathered to federal law enforcement.
"We're going to make sure these people get their money and that they get justice," she told me.