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Church Billed For Thousands By F-Rated Business

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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MAPLE GROVE, Minn. (WCCO) – Month after month, a Twin Cities church has been billed for stuff workers say they never ordered.

St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Maple Grove has paid thousands of dollars to an office supply company.

As the maintenance supervisor, Bobby Skinner spends plenty of time making sure there are enough supplies to keep things running smoothly at St. Joseph the Worker. So, it’s especially strange to see so many boxes unopened and off limits.

“I just don’t know how somebody would want to do this to a church, and how they can sleep at night — or to any place for that matter,” Skinner said.

Skinner said he first heard from a company called Werner International, this past fall.

“It was a little different because he asked for my cell phone number and my home address,” Skinner said.

Skinner said after placing a small order, the church has received at least two unwanted shipments every month since. It wasn’t until this spring when some light bulbs in the worship center were replaced that the front office noticed how much it was costing them.

One invoice for 13 bulbs went for $1,343. Another invoice for 40 bulbs was $2,300.

In all, the church paid more than $9,000 to Werner International for bulbs and cleaning supplies. And until the office canceled one of the church’s credit cards, stopped payment, and refused more supplies, they owed thousands more.

“In this case we got too far into it before we caught what was really happening,” Parish Business Administrator Randy Bauer said.

Werner International is based in Baltimore. After more than 200 complaints in three years, The Better Business Bureau gave them an F for “deceptive sales practices and unauthorized delivery of light bulbs.”

A new managing partner of the company, Greg Bandelin, took over in January. He told WCCO he’s turning things around.

“I’m not saying there were improper practices in place in 2012, but I believe there were mishandled and mismanaged accounts, which have been rectified,” Bandelin said.

Bandelin said his bulbs are priced higher because they offer the longest warranties in the business, a service he said the church signed up for.

“With the lifespan of normal commercial bulbs, it’s a very cost effective program if utilized properly, and we have a lot of customers that utilize it properly,” Bandelin said.

St. Joseph the Worker doesn’t consider it cost effective and wants its money back. In the meantime, Skinner won’t be using anything from what’s now turned into a tower of storage.

“That $9,000 would by a lot of bulbs that we could really use,” Bauer said.

Werner International offered to give the church credit for everything it didn’t use, but not a refund. The church said they didn’t feel comfortable ever doing business with them again, so for now, they’ll keep it all and file a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

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