Small Claims Court Winners Having Trouble Collecting Money From Elusive "Spa Man"

The story of Craig Hueffner, a man who sold spas with hefty rebates that weren’t honored, is a good reminder of the limits of small claims court: namely that if the defendent plays dirty, it may be a long, expensive task to make him pay up.

“People think when they come to court that they are going to get instant relief,” said Judge Rebecca Dallet of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. “We can give what the law allows, but we have no way of getting the money for them. I don’t think people realize that.”

In two stories over the past few days, Ellen Gabler of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has tried to track down Craig Hueffner, who has sold spas through the Wisconsin State Fair for most of the past 11 years. There’s a fairground pavilion named after him, and his caricature is painted on it. His brother was even present this year selling spas. But many customers have had trouble getting Hueffner to pay contractually obligated rebates (which he offered even when he knew that the company behind the rebates was having financial problems)—and it seems no one can track him down, because he repeatedly gives incorrect addresses and contact information.

Those who’ve tried to sue Hueffner in small claims court say he’s an expert at wriggling out of his responsibility to pay. He lists different addresses and different business names to avoid being served with court papers, they say, and he stalls in court.

After the first article appeared, some customers were given a lucky break—Hueffner’s real address—but Hueffner may have frustrated and exhausted the couple to the point that they’re giving up:

After Sunday’s P.I. story appeared, Albert and Sally Merschdorf received a call from someone who knew Hueffner’s home address. The Merschdorfs gave up trying to sue Hueffner last October after they said they spent at least $300 and many hours trying to track him down and serve him with court papers.

“At this point, I don’t know if it’s going to do me any good,” Albert Merschdorf said of Hueffner’s address. “It’s frustrating getting it now, rather than when we were trying to serve him (with court papers.)”

There’s not much you can do to help track down Hueffner, but you can ask Bob Lauter, the CEO of Master Spas, whether or not he’s still doing business with Hueffner even after knowing what he’s been doing to customers. Lauter told the paper that he’d investigate, but then fell silent and stopped returning calls:

Craig Hueffner worked as an independent dealer of Master Spas, a brand of hot tubs sold by the Fort Wayne, Ind., company.

Bob Lauter, CEO of Master Spas, said he knew Hueffner had run into trouble with the rebate program but said he didn’t know about the judgments against Hueffner or customer complaints. He also said his company hadn’t sold Hueffner products in six months.

“We have to look at this, re-evaluate it, and probably terminate him as a dealer,” Lauter said. “I don’t want our customers to be involved with that.”

Three weeks later, however, Lauter wouldn’t return repeated calls, so Public Investigator could not confirm whether Hueffner was terminated as a dealer.

Here’s Master Spas’ contact info:

Master Spas
6927 Lincoln Parkway
Fort Wayne, IN 46804

“Spa dealer elusive in paying court-ordered debts” [JS Online]
“‘Spa Man’ still elusive, even at home “ [JS Online] (Thanks to !)
(Photo: Getty)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.