SAN ANTONIO -- At the Doggie Dooz salon, business was as bright as a bichon frise s coat.
The business wasn t doing too bad, said owner Jeff Wright. We were probably the most successful groom shop in town.
After six years, he and his wife Kelli even opened a second boutique. Then, suddenly, the salon closed. Shut down, but not for a lack of customers. It was because of delinquent taxes.
Wright said, Over the last six months, we discovered through notifications from the Texas comptroller s office, the IRS and our landlord that none of our bills have been completely been getting paid.
The Wrights were shocked: they d hired Richard Soto to handle their finances, and wrote him checks totaling more than $20,000 to pay the bills.
Soto explained that he was never given any money to settle any debts, just retainer fees. It was a story he apparently told other clients, too.
A KENS 5 investigation found even more unsatisfied customers, from years back -- like Connie Oliva, the owner of a landscape company.
He needs to pay. He caused a lot of stress here. The IRS kept writing me letters and phone calls and people at my door, Oliva said.
Soto had been doing taxes for J and C Landscaping and Lawn Services since 2005.
Creditors told owner Oliva they were unimpressed with her tax accountant s receipts. She owed more than $15,000, and said she ended up changing the name of her business to save her reputation.
I had to do a lot and get a loan actually, a $25,000 loan from MBNA to survive, Oliva said.
And there are more clients in trouble: in Sugarland, Seguin and in McAllen, Texas. A Bexar County woman has hired an attorney to help reclaim more than $35,000 she gave Soto to pay her taxes.
The checks were deposited; the money just never made it to the taxman.
Oliva is still after Soto for more than $8,000. She said she isn t surprised there are other clients.
Very criminal, Oliva said about Soto. To live the high-style that he likes to live, we innocent customers have to pay for it. That s the bottom line. That s what he s doing.
KENS 5 reporter Joe Conger tried talking face-to-face with Richard Soto, and caught up with him outside a local sports bar.
Reporter: These people say you stole their money. That you re not an accountant. Are you an accountant?
Soto: Are you the (expletive) law? .
Reporter: Are you an accountant?
Soto: Are you the law?
Reporter: I m not the law. Are you an accountant?
Soto never answered the question, but the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy said no, he is not an accountant. The board has ordered Soto to stop posing online and in print, and has fined him $12,000.
His victims said Soto stops long enough to move and set up another website and another office in a different part of town. Records show he s been doing it for the last 20 years.
As part of the KENS 5 investigation, a potential client went undercover to his newest business, RMS and Associates. Soto continued to push his expertise.
We are an accounting firm, Soto was recorded saying on hidden camera. And what we do; we work on a monthly basis, on a retainer basis. I ve been practicing for about 30 years.
And what about the receipts Soto provides his clients over all those years? KENS 5 has obtained documents showing what appears to be how Soto s firm would alter documents and manipulate account numbers.
The accounting errors have captured the attention of IRS agents, who visited Soto s offices last week.
IRS Special Agent Mike Lemoine said, We were at his offices. All I can say is that we were there for official business.
He may not be a certified accountant, but Richard Soto does have an official record a criminal one. According to Bexar County court records, he was charged with check fraud in 2004.
And officials at Florida State University, an institution whose alleged degree he displays on the office wall, and whose name adorns the back of his Mercedes, said they have never heard of Richard Soto.
The Wrights continue to work to rebuild their dog grooming business.
We had to pawn everything we didn t need to move into this space, Wright said, showing his bare hands after he and his wife pawned their wedding bands for a deposit on a new office suite.
The Wrights said the IRS has been in contact with them and other clients, who are attempting to settle their tax matters with state and federal officials.
This week, the Wrights opened up The Barker Shop on DeZavala Road, and hope to rebuildtheir doggie clientele.
He took money from me and my kids. I m very upset, Wright said.