SANTA FE (KRQE) – It’s a tale of lies, deception and government incompetence. And it has been going on for years in Santa Fe’s historic district.
Special sales offering bogus discounts are illegal. However, some merchants resort to this deceptive business tactic anyway.
“They are working on the customer’s sense of greed. Oh boy, I’m getting a great bargain here.” John Dressman, with the Santa Fe Downtown Merchants Association said.
If a business is caught having a phony sale, they risk stiff fines and up to 90 days in jail. Santa Fe regulates price reduction sales, but when it comes to enforcing the law, the city is all bark and no bite.
“When there has been a complaint about a sale that has been illegal under the city laws we’ve seen no action,” Dressman said. “There’s been a number of complaints about signage that we’ve taken to the land use directors and for the most part, those have been ignored.”
Despite flagrant violations over the last several years, Santa Fe inspectors failed to issue a single citation or assess a dollar in fines.
In 2012, the Anasazi Gallery, a high-end Native American art gallery just off Santa Fe’s historic plaza, advertised a 40 to 70 percent off sale. However, city inspectors claimed the signs were not readable from the street and took no action.
In 2013 Anasazi advertised another big sale. Even though the signs were in violation, inspectors did not issue a citation.
In 2014, after Anasazi held a 50 percent off sale, the city slapped the gallery with a violation notice. However, instead of filing the citation, the city inspector stuck the complaint in a file and forgot about it. The document didn’t surface until 9 months later during the News 13 investigation.
Last summer, Anasazi owner Amjad Nassar decided to call it quits and close his Santa Fe gallery.
A News 13 undercover camera documented gallery owner Nassar talking to prospective customers in August, “The markets are just about to crash…When it crashes all these expensive stores that are paying $30,000, $40,000 a month they’ll close and then it will take a few years and then it might come back. At that point I might open a new store.”
He said he was considering locations in Utah, Aspen and Colorado.
“There’s a lot of money in those places and people are spending it,” Nassar said. “They want nice stuff. The areas I’m looking at are very chic…Only rich people.”
In July, Anasazi obtained a permit to hold a “Going Out of Business” sale. The sale was advertised as 50 to70 percent off, claiming that everything must go.
“Now I’m doing real well with the store closing because everyone wants a great deal,” Nassar said in August. “I want to sell everything I can. It’s a 90 day sale. We started about three weeks ago.”
In November, the gallery closed its doors for the last time. However, it was not the end of the story.
A month after the Anasazi Gallery went out of business, Anasazi Gallery Trading opened in its place. The new business welcomed customers with a “Grand Opening Sale.” The merchandise however, looked familiar.
KRQE News 13 documented dozens of pricey native arts from the old store that were on sale in the new one.
The business license for the old gallery lists Nassar as owner. His name also appears on the new business license.
Is it a coincidence?
KRQE News 13 went to the gallery in December and was greeted by a man who identified himself as “Joey.” When Joey was asked if he had a going out of business sale last year, he said it wasn’t him and that it was the old owners.
“That company is gone,” he said. “It’s been gone since November 3rd.”
According to Joey, Anasazi Gallery Trading is a new business that he bought from the old owners.
“I took over,” he said. “I bought their showcases…They took all their inventory and left and I bought their customer list.”
He added that the entire inventory was “brand new” and not a single piece came from the previous business.
But if Joey is the new owner, what happened to Amjad Nassar?
“Amjad is the original owner of this place,” Joey said. “He is not here right now in Santa Fe. I don’t know where he is I’ll be honest with you. I think Vegas I’m not sure.”
However armed with a photo of Amjad Nassar, KRQE News 13 noted a striking resemblance to the man who called himself Joey. Once confronted with the image, Joey confessed.
“Let me be honest with you…I did lie to you. I’m Amjad Nassar,” Joey AKA Amjad said.
He said he lied because the city has been after him. But his identity is not the only thing Nassar lied about. He now admits fudging the truth about his merchandise. He now says some of it is from the old business.
Nassar also admitted extending his lease on the store for another three years, weeks before his Going Out of Business sale ended last year.
“There’s nothing wrong with what I did. I’ll be honest with you…Do you think I’m doing something wrong?” Nassar said.
Besides running a phony sale, Nassar has repeatedly violated city ordinances.
Lisa Martinez, Santa Fe’s Land Use Director, said the situation has been eye opening.
“[The public] should care because you don’t want fraudulent businesses opening up, having phony merchandise sales just to lure people in.” Martinez said.
Although Santa Fe investigators were aware of the violations and the red flags indicating phony sales practices, no one documented the activity.
“I have not found any inspection,” Martinez said. “It doesn’t look good.”
Nassar says he does not need this kind of bad publicity.
“I wasn’t honest with you at the beginning and I do apologize,” Nassar said. “I shouldn’t have done that, but I’ll be honest sir I just feel like it’s nobody’s business.”
Martinez is concerned that the city does not have the appropriate records to document what happened.
“We have a business owner that I don’t think has been honest with anyone,” Martinez said. “From this point on my message is that we are going to be enforcing the ordinance. We will be inspecting, we will be issuing notices of violations and should fines be necessary those will be imposed as well.”
Santa Fe’s Land Use Division has launched a full investigation into Amjad Nassar’s business practices. In addition, Mayor Javier Gonzales has introduced an amendment to Santa Fe’s Ordinance regulating sales that would allow the city more power to regulate and enforce violations.