Phil Hamblock, Luke Wass and Russ Crowell all have a few things in common. They’re all from Montana, they’re all drawn to classic cars, and they say they’ve all been taken for a ride.
“A lot of people fall for it because he shows you, ‘look what I did look at this car, it’s beautiful, yeah, I can do the same thing to yours, make it look just like that.’”
Phil Hamblock said that’s what happened to him when he wanted his prized Corvette and truck restored to show quality.
Phil found Steve Rosten; a quick Google search shows his specialty - paint jobs and restorations.
“In the beginning, I thought, ‘well I’m not gonna do it without a contract.’ I thought, ‘well if I get something in writing that’s normally good enough.’ Apparently not,” Hamblock said.
Within a few months, the communication started to break down. Phil said he couldn’t get a hold of Rosten, kept trying to stop by his shop, and he wasn’t there. By April of 2020, Phil had had enough and wanted all work to be halted immediately.
“At first, I was mad, real mad. But then I got just kind of heartbroken because now I’ve got two vehicles that are ruined,” Hamblock said.
In the end, Phil estimates he’s lost at least $30,000 dollars.
Russ Crowell tells a similar story about his ‘68 Camaro.
“Everyone wants a cheap price on a car paint.”
Russ said the work… never happened
“He had my car for over a year before I went and got it.”
Russ sued Rosten and was awarded $12,000.
Luke Wass may have the most heartbreaking story of the three men.
“My dad was a very trusting guy. It was a handshake deal… I don’t think there’s one person in the town of Chinook or Havre that he didn’t help out, and a handshake was a handshake,” Wass said.
But Luke said that handshake went south
“This was after the checks had been written… It disappeared on us for six months, we didn’t even know where it was.”
During that time Luke’s dad was battling cancer. When the family finally got the Cutlass Supreme back it was in rough shape, with most of the parts sitting in the trunk.
Luke estimates his father lost $12,000 in the deal before passing away.
I asked, “how many people do you think have similar stories?”
“Hundreds,” Hamblock said.
That estimate might not be that far off.
After a quick search, I found several complaints against Rosten with the Better Business Bureau and the state.
When I went to the courthouse to see how many people have sued him, the clerk told me it was, “going to be a while” to get all the documents together. In fact, records show that he has been sued at least 23 times in Cascade County in the past ten years, and he’s been ordered to pay back over $260,000.
“I think a lot of people don’t fight for what is theirs because they don’t think they can win or it’s so expensive,” Russ said. “And where’s the county attorney?”
Good question. So, I contacted Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki. He told me in order to move forward with charges, he needs law enforcement to bring him a case.
Both Great Falls Police and the Cascade County Sheriff say they’re familiar with Rosten… but the complaints fall under “civil” disputes and options are limited.
So, I called the one person who could clear this all up: Steve Rosten.
I said, “According to documents I got at the courthouse, you’ve been sued 23 times in the last ten years.”
Rosten replied, “Yeah because I did a lot of cheap paint jobs and people weren’t happy with them because they didn’t want to pay high dollar amounts, so I just didn’t do the total quality.”
I spoke with the sheriff about Rosten’s business.
“It is the purchaser’s responsibility to make sure they vet that person and make sure that person is going to provide a service that’s going to be to their liking,” responded Sheriff Slaughter.
I asked Rosten, why do you keep doing this?
“I’m trying to get my life together. Just trying to make everybody happy. I feel terrible that people have had to sue me… I want to take care of the judgments and things I’ve been sued for…if they brought the thing back, I’d do it again for free and fix whatever needs to be fixed.”
After our phone call, I got an email that said in part, “I think you really woke me up. I want to get the judgments taken care of… I have done some bonehead things in my life, and I think I’m really done now and want to make it better.”
I told Phil, Luke and Russ what Rosten had to say, and they’re skeptical.
“I don’t think he’s going to do anything… I think it’s just because it’s coming to light and you’re on the end of the phone,” Phil said.
I took my findings… the interviews, court documents, social media posts… and explained the case to the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) at the Attorney General’s Office.
Marcus Meyer is an investigator with the OCP. He said people need to file a complaint, and based on what I brought to the OCP Marcus said…
“Yes, we are opening that investigation.”
That investigation will take several months. In the meantime, Luke, Russ and Phil don’t want anyone to deal with the same thing they did and pass along this advice:
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
I’ll stay in touch and see if Steve Rosten makes good on his promise to his customers.
So, what can you do to protect yourself moving forward? Well, it comes back to the same tips you’ve always heard, and I’m going to repeat them again here: check to make sure the business is accredited with the BBB, pay attention to reviews online and on social media, and if you are a victim, make sure you file a complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection. It takes about five minutes, and you can do it online or over the phone.