SALEM, Ore. -- A group of veterans in the Salem area said a man who claimed to be giving them work cheated them out of thousands of dollars in wages, right before the holidays.
Brian Piatt is one of more than two dozen veterans who took a job with Tim Leatherby, who runs a company called Leatherby Tools. They said Leatherby went to different veterans' service organizations and homeless shelters and offered veterans $15 an hour to work for him.
"We wanted to believe this was not a handout. This was a way for us to get back on our feet and be proud again," Piatt said.
The veterans started out by renovating apartments at a complex in Salem. They said Leatherby told them it was just the beginning, and that he was closing on a warehouse in Silverton that would hold a factory providing jobs for 30,000 veterans.
"It came at a great time. A lot of us are homeless, jobless vets. I'm a disabled veteran," said Mike McKee, who joined the crew.
But the veterans said when payday came around, they did not receives their wages as promised.
"Just story after story after story after story," said Timothy Gilbreath, another veteran who worked for Leatherby.
One group of veterans told KATU that Leatherby owed more than $10,000 in pay, money they need to pay the bills.
"And our kids no longer have Christmas, right?" said Gilbreath, who said he served in the Army in Iraq. "How do you tell a 5-year-old Santa's not coming?"
"I am being evicted from my house," Piatt said.
"It's like somebody hit me with a baseball bat and I can't catch my breath," said Clyde Parker, 65, who said he served in the Navy. "It was devastating."
Part of the devastation for these vets is the feeling that they were tricked. They said Leatherby make grand claims. As the KATU Problem Solvers found out, many of those claims were false.
The vets said Leatherby told them he was in constant contact with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. Leatherby said he met with Kitzhaber at the Capitol after hours, and told the veterans the Governor was going to visit them at the Salem apartment complex where they were working.
"The governor was coming out to the job site to see how fantastic of a job everyone was doing," Gilbreath said Leatherby told them.
Piatt said he went to a meeting with Leatherby that was supposed to be a meeting with the Governor. Instead, the meeting was at a cafe called the Governor's Cup in Salem, and with a man who was not Kitzhaber.
"After the meeting, I asked him, 'Who was that?'" said Piatt. He said Leatherby responded to his question. "'Oh, that's the Attorney General.' I says, ‘That's Ellen Rosenblum. That's the not the Attorney General.’"
The Problem Solvers checked with the governor's office. A spokeswoman, Amy Wojcicki, said Kitzhaber does not know Leatherby and they do not meet to discuss business or any other issues.
"He's hurt a lot of people, people that have served our country. And they deserve more respect than that. I deserve more respect than that," Piatt said.
The Problem Solvers met with Leatherby twice. Leatherby gave multiple reasons for not paying the veterans, including that the veterans would not let him do the work he needed to do to get them paid. After our first meeting, he paid some of the veterans $175 each. But he did not pay all of the veterans, and he did not pay them the more than $10,000 they said he owed. Leatherby said he would pay the rest on Wednesday, Dec. 18.
The Problem Solvers told him that it seemed as if he had a problem with lying.
"Everybody says that," responded Leatherby.
We asked Leatherby about his statements about Kitzhaber. He claimed he never said made them.
We asked him about another one of his claims, that a nonprofit group was giving him a large building for vets in Salem.
"The Salvation Army has a warehouse on Lancaster and I've been talking to them and that will be ours," Leatherby said.
We told him that we had spoken with the Salvation Army, and that the organization said the claim was a lie. We asked him with whom he was speaking at the Salvation Army.
"I have not. That's my investor in the back. And he said, 'Tim, you'll have that building it'll be here within a month,'" Leatherby said.
We told him the Salvation Army insisted it was not giving him a warehouse. He claimed he would text his investor and show us the paperwork later. He did not respond to our follow-up email about it, nor did he provide any paperwork.
The veterans said Leatherby also promised them large gift cards to Toys R Us, as much as $1,000 worth, so that they could buy their children presents for the holidays. Leatherby told us that he had given the gift cards to "someone he trusted" and they "magically disappeared."
Some of the veterans who did not receive their wages said they believe Leatherby was stringing them along to get them to work for him for free, especially since the bid for the job of renovating apartments would not have come close to covering the wages he promised.
"It was an illusion. He's a magician, smoke and mirrors," Piatt said.
Some veterans in another group continue to stay affiliated with Leatherby, saying they believe in his future plan of opening a factory in Silverton that will give jobs to 30,000 veterans. Leatherby said he has given extras to some of the veterans still with him, paying for a motel room for one, paying for bike repair for another, and paying for a prescription for a third.
At one point, Leatherby said the veterans who left his side and are demanding their wages are "whiners" and "liars." Later, he changed his tact.
"No, I'm blaming this on me," Leatherby said. "I should have been more careful. I just wanted everybody working.
"It's my fault. Period. End of story, OK?"
It is not the end of the story for the veterans who said they were not paid.
"We're tired of seeing our spouses cry," said Raymond Browne, who added that he may have to go back to living in his car.
They feel they were easy targets, desperate for work, and proud to be able to serve again in what they thought was an organization for veterans who are back at home after serving their country.
"Because we were proud the day we swore and signed our name on that line," Piatt said. "And right now, we're not so proud. It hurts a lot."
A spokesperson for the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry said the veterans who did not receive some or all of their wages should file a complaint with BOLI.
A local non-profit group, Impact NW, has agreed to provide a path for people to donate to the veterans who did not receive their wages. If you are interested in donating, you can donate through its website or call Impact NW: (503) 988-6887.