BBB investigates potentially bogus restaurant guide sales
By the Better Business Bureau
ST. LOUIS – Charles McMillen, a Metro East man who may have duped hundreds of businesses in a series of bogus advertising sales schemes, again is facing scrutiny from consumers and Better Business Bureau.
Earlier this month, an official with a national restaurant chain said McMillen billed her company $799 for an advertisement in a publication called Restaurant & Bar Guide. The official told BBB McMillen has not provided proof that anyone with the chain ever agreed to the ad or that McMillen ever published the guide.
The official said that McMillen cut off communications with her company after an employee of the restaurant’s corporate office accused him of trying to defraud the business.
BBB advises businesses to exercise extreme caution when dealing with McMillen or his newest business, Restaurant & Bar Guide. McMillen’s full name is Charles B. McMillen. He also has used the name Chuck McMillen.
In June 2010, BBB issued an alert on McMillen and his Metro-East Coupon Publications. BBB said at that time that several dozen Illinois businesses appeared to have been victimized by an advertising scheme in which McMillen billed them for ads in publications with either very limited distribution or no distribution. The alert reported that a police investigator who looked into a nearly identical McMillen scheme two years before said the operation may have stolen money from hundreds of businesses in the bi-state area.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said McMillen continues to plague businesses in Missouri, Illinois and potentially across the nation.
“Our warning is simple and direct: avoid doing business with this man,” Corey said. “Mr. McMillen’s history shows he should not be trusted.”
Court records in Jersey County, show that McMillen pleaded guilty to theft by deception in connection with a similar advertising scheme in Grafton in September 2007. McMillen’s sister, Chondis Cooper, pleaded guilty to another phony ad billing case in Lincoln County, Mo., in 2008.
In the most recent case, the restaurant chain official said her office in California received a $799 invoice from McMillen on July 30. She said he insisted the ad had been approved by the manager of one of the chain’s restaurants in Collinsville, but the official said the manager denied ever agreeing to the purchase.
When the official asked for a copy of the ad, McMillen faxed a copy of a photo of the restaurant, including an address and phone number. The official later learned that the fax was sent from a machine at the public library in Richland, Mo.
A library employee told BBB that she remembers helping a man send the faxes from the library’s equipment. She said the photo of the restaurant was not a prepared ad, but rather a picture that he had pulled from the Internet minutes before.
In August 2014, a businesswoman from Aviston, told BBB she met with McMillen several months earlier about taking out an ad in Restaurant & Bar Guide. She said she paid him $125, but she never saw a copy of the guide and does not believe it was ever published. She said when she called him on his cell phone to inquire about the guide he denied knowing her and told her not to call him again.
“Once he gets your money, you never see him again,” she said.
McMillen has used several recent addresses, including an address on Collinsville Road in Collinsville that does not exist. The address would be on the grounds of Fairmont Park Race Track.
Two other addresses – 8040 Collinsville Road in Collinsville, and P.O. Box 35 in Alhambra – previously were used by a tour bus company called R & M Tours. R & M Tours has been operated by Martha McMillen, McMillen’s mother.
Martha McMillen said she has no involvement in Restaurant & Bar Guide and has not seen her son recently. “I know nothing about it,” she said of the guide.
BBB has been unable to contact Charles McMillen.
BBB offers the following tips for businesses buying advertising:
– Make sure you are dealing with a legitimate company. If you are considering advertising with a business you do not know, ask for past copies of the publication and references from past advertisers. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org or by calling (314) 645-3300.
– If the company claims that it distributes its advertisements in free shoppers, find out where and how those publications are distributed. Contact some distribution points to make sure they are getting the publications.
– Make sure the person you are paying actually represents the company you have contracted with for advertising. If you are unsure, contact the company directly and ask them.
– Make sure you have the right to approve your ad before it is published. A mistake in printing a phone number could doom an ad to failure.
It is generally a good idea not to pay in advance for advertising, especially when dealing with a new company.