Robert James Hussey, a local computer chain owner, was arrested last week and charged with breach of trust with fraudulent
intent, according to J. Reuben Long Detention Center records.
An Horry County investigator with the 15th Circuit Solicitor's office arrested Hussey on April 24.
Hussey, 27, was released the same day and faces up to five years in prison, accused of obtaining money under false
Hussey could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
More than 200 people have complained about Hussey's businesses, Seaside Computer and Computer Inferno. Critics
say poor business practices have left them without desktop computers and laptops or struggling to deal with missing
The arrest resulted from Donna Larson's purchase of a laptop from Hussey's Computer Inferno, 5335 Kings Highway,
on April 13, 2007, according to a warrant. The business contract stated the laptop was new, but documents obtained
from the laptop proved it was previously owned - making the laptop a refurbished computer that was sold as new.
Larson, after a trade-in, purchased the used laptop for $1,280, according to court documents.
Greg Hembree, 15th Circuit solicitor, said there will be a trial in June or July, when evidence will be presented
to a grand jury.
Hembree, who has been investigating the company for several years, had been gathering information to charge Hussey.
In the past 36 months, 165 complaints have been filed with the Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina against
Seaside Computers and 70 complaints against Computer Inferno. The solicitor's office also received complaints.
Hussey has said in recent months that he had been working with customers to resolve the complaints.
The BBB warned customers on Wednesday.
"This is a perfect example of why we urge anyone involved in any kind of business transaction to either call
our office or log on to our Web site, enter the company's name and obtain a Reliability Report," BBB operations
director Samantha Hightower said in a statement. "If you take a few minutes to investigate, it could end up
preventing the loss of money and time to companies with a track record of complaints."
Robert Becher went to the Seaside Computer in Surfside Beach in February to have his laptop repaired. Becher hasn't
seen his laptop since and said that Hussey's business made unauthorized charges to his credit card before refusing
to return the laptop.
"That's unfortunate; I don't wish for anyone to get arrested ... but what he did was fraudulent," said
Becher, who now lives in New York. Hussey "certainly has a terrible reputation. ... Why couldn't [he] just
be honorable and live up to [his] commitment and avoid criminal activity?"
The computer chain, which operates eight stores under the two names in Horry and Georgetown counties, has an unsatisfactory
record with the BBB. The stores were still open Wednesday afternoon.
Previously, nearly 100 complaints had been filed with the Better Business Bureau [ BBB ] against a local computer
sales and repair business have prompted a criminal investigation by the Horry County Solicitor.
Hembree said last week that his agency is investigating Seaside Computers Inc., which has five Grand Strand locations.
Hembree said he is close to making a decision on the case.
"We're probably at a point where we're going to be reviewing the case to determine if we will bring criminal charges," Hembree
Among the potential charges, he said, are obtaining money under false pretenses and breach of trust with fraudulent
intent. Hembree said both are considered forms of larceny. Allegations of software piracy also are part of the investigation,
"The software-piracy issue we more than likely will turn over to the federal government depending upon what evidence
we have of that," Hembree said.
Horry County records show that Seaside Computers has been in civil court as a defendant 26 times since 2002. There
are four additional civil suits filed against the company's registered agent, Mark White. Records also show that
six cases have gone on to circuit court. The company has been in business since 2001.
Hembree said his office has received complaints from the magistrate courts, and the Better Business Bureau and
others have come directly to his office.
"The challenge that we have in any sort of consumer-related problem is that there is sometimes quite a fine line
between what is civil liability and criminal liability," Hembree said. "The penalties are drastically different."
Seaside Computers did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment in recent weeks. A man who answered
the phone at the company's headquarters would give only his first name and said the company's owners weren't available.
He would not say who the owners were or answer other questions. The Sun News also made repeated telephone calls
to the company's various locations in attempts to locate an owner or manager for comment. Employees at those locations
would not answer questions and said they did not know who the owners were.
Seaside Computers has an unsatisfactory standing with the Better Business Bureau because of the company's lack
of effort to resolve complaints, said John Trudeau, the bureau's local director.
As of April 20, the agency had 96 complaints against Seaside, more than half of which have gone either unanswered
or unresolved. Trudeau said 33 complaints are resolved or assumed resolved because the bureau has not heard back
from the consumer.
Among the complaints are charges of software piracy, misrepresentation and fraud.
"We have no other computer sales and service company in our area that has this volume of complaints," Trudeau
He said attempts to talk with Seaside Computers' management have been unsuccessful.
"It appears that many customers are getting the proverbial runaround when it comes to customer service from this
company," he said.
Three of the bureau's complaints involve alleged software piracy, he said.
"We're going to contact the people who alleged there was software piracy and ask them to report to the Business
Software Alliance," Trudeau said. "This is a serious matter, and the reporting has to be done by the consumer."
The bureau also will report any violations of what appears to be piracy to the Federal Trade Commission.
As of April 20, 18 complaints against Seaside Computers were filed in Columbia with the S.C. Department of Consumer
Although the Better Business Bureau has given Seaside Computers an unsatisfactory rating, the company is not on
the Buyer Beware list furnished by the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs.
Donna DeMichael, the department's director of consumer services, said that is because Seaside Computers has responded
to the complaints.
The department has written responses from the company's district manager, Michael McCauley, and from Joan Rogers,
a representative of the company's consumer relations department.
"We have always received a response from them even if it's not what the consumer wanted," DeMichael said.
Marie Pratt of Myrtle Beach said her complaints and Seaside Computers' responses have been circulating in DeMichael's
office since September 2004.
Pratt said she left her Hewlett-Packard computer with Seaside Computers for repair but was told she would be better
off buying a new machine. Pratt spent $629.99 on a new computer and a three-year warranty but took the machine back
because it wasn't operating properly and had trouble loading America Online software, she said.
Pratt said she was told the new machine needed $100 worth of new memory. While waiting for the work to be done,
she decided to use her old computer but found parts missing.
Information stored on the hard drive also was gone, she said.
"They assured me they would call me before they blew anything out of my computer," she said. Pratt disagrees with
Seaside's response, which is that her computer was left for disposal and such machines usually are stripped.
In a more-than-1,000-word contract Seaside prints on the back of its sales slips, the company says it will not
be responsible for lost or corrupted data.
Contracts, pirated software
Susan Bracken, a part-time Myrtle Beach resident from Ontario, Canada, said she signed a Seaside Computers sales
slip without realizing it also contained a contract, printed on the back of the slip, that doesn't allow consumers
to get refunds for defective products or to sue the company.
Disputes must be settled by an arbitrator chosen by the company, the contract says.
The front of the sales slip includes a statement that says that if a consumer signs the slip, he or she has read
and agrees to a contract on the reverse side.
Trudeau said the contract "appears to be extremely weighted to the company's side and offers very little recourse,
if any, to the consumer."
Bracken said the contract was not pointed out to her and she was not asked to turn the sales slip over.
Louis Burke, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, said that in such a case, the consumer still
is bound by the contract and no laws have been broken.
"This kind of strategy is a common one, even with the largest consumer entities in the country," Burke said. "If
you've signed something that basically waives all your rights, you're in bad shape."
Burke said some of the other allegations against Seaside, such as removing parts from a piece of equipment left
for an estimate, could fall into the category of unfair trade practice if it can be established that such practices
are repeated by the company or if intent can be proved.
Bracken said she dropped off her computer at Seaside for virus removal. After she brought the machine home, Bracken
said she found all of her programs and files had been erased. Bracken also said a different version of Windows had
been installed on her computer.
Bracken said Microsoft's anti-piracy department confirmed through a serial number that the version of Windows
that Seaside loaded onto her computer is a pirated version. Bracken said she was told Microsoft would initiate an
investigation. Microsoft's anti-piracy department declined to discuss the case.
Cost of piracy
The Software and Information Industry Association estimates that it loses between $12 billion and $15 billion
each year because of software piracy, spokesman David Williams said.
Keith Kupferschmid, the group's vice president of intellectual property, said about 200 cases of piracy are reported
to the organization monthly, not including Internet cases.
Kupferschmid said consumers should get adequate paperwork and make sure they are given a registration number when
they purchase computers.
Civil case launched
Although most of the complaints against Seaside Computers have come from individual consumers, a civil case against
the company was filed in January by lawyer Sally Peace of the Battle & Vaught law firm in Conway.
Peace declined to discuss the case.
According to court records, Battle & Vaught said Seaside Computers was guilty of breach of contract, fraud
and unfair trade practices. The law firm said it ordered three new Dell computers with Microsoft Office software
and two new flat screens, which were to be delivered before Dec. 25. According to Battle & Vaught, three used
Dell computers without Microsoft Office software and two used flat screens were delivered Jan. 10.
According to court records, Seaside offered to replace the machines but Battle & Vaught declined. The law
firm said it was promised a refund check by Jan. 12 but did not receive the check before filing its complaint.
A settlement was negotiated, and the matter recently was resolved, Peace said.
Mark E. White Jr. is the registered agent for Seaside Computers Inc., according to papers filed with the S.C.
Secretary of State. White also is listed as the contact on the business license for Computer Inferno, which opened
in the fall in the Pine Lakes area of Myrtle Beach.
According to Horry County records, a business license recently was granted for another Computer Inferno location
at 4620 Dick Pond Road. White also is the license owner for that location, which is scheduled to open in June.
The Better Business Bureau and the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs each have one complaint on file against
The bureau's Conway office listed Salvatore McCauley as the principal for Seaside Computers in July 2003, and
Michael McCauley was listed as the company's district manager in correspondence sent to the S.C. Department of Consumer
Affairs in December 2004.
Until recently, Seaside Computers operated six Grand Strand locations, but its store in the Galleria Shopping
Center is closed and signs say it is under renovation.
Horry County records show that the business license for the Galleria location expired at the end of 2003.