CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A Colorado-based steel building company that was the subject of multiple Denver7 Investigates reports in 2022 is offering thousands of dollars in refunds with an unusual catch.
For customers to get some of their money back, they are — in part — asked to sign a letter saying Denver7’s past reporting about the company was inaccurate.
Mai Samhouri is one customer who received this offer. She calls the Armstrong Steel building in her backyard "the most expensive mistake she has ever made."
The building does not have a door or solid floor due to money drying up, which Samhouri blames on the company.
"That's a really expensive pigeon coop," she said. "They might as well change their company name from Armstrong to strong arm."
Denver7 first reported on Armstrong Steel and Samhouri last year after she and other customers came forward reporting delays and price hikes. More than two dozen plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit against the Centennial-based building manufacturer. Court records show the class action case has been stayed until private arbitration proceedings are concluded.
Documents show Samhouri lost her $4,200 rebate and paid thousands of dollars in increased steel prices. She said she had given up any hope of getting her money back until a few weeks ago when an offer came from Armstrong Steel.
At first, Samhouri was told Armstrong Steel wanted to "make things right with customers." But in return, she was asked to send a letter to Denver7.
An email shows Armstrong Steel offered to refund Samhouri's rebate. Attached is a pre-written letter by Armstrong Steel on Samhouri's behalf with her name printed at the bottom.
The letter stated Denver7 provided a "misleading representation" and asked for the story to be "removed from circulation."
"You guys (reported) exactly what I told you and what happened," said Samhouri. "Denver7 did nothing except for being the only people to listen to me... I don't want to reward you doing that good thing by lying."
Denver7 Investigates has learned Mai is not alone. Another customer, who asked not to be identified, said Armstrong offered a refund of several thousand dollars but also required a letter stating Denver7’s story was inaccurate.
"I felt it was very unusual to have these types of settlement agreements," said Dan Vedra, an independent consumer protection attorney who is not connected to the complaints.
Vedra said he has never heard of a company requiring people to send letters to the media to get their money back.
"When you look at the actions that have been taken in these cases — compelling people to private arbitrations or sending letters to news organizations — to me, it seems like what they're trying to do is prevent accurate reporting on their business practices," Vedra said.
A spokesperson for Armstrong Steel did not respond to Denver7 Investigates' request for an interview or questions about the letters to Denver7 and refund settlement agreements. In a statement, the spokesperson wrote in part, "We are aware of a small number of customers who became frustrated with pricing due to factors out of our control during the pandemic, such as escalated material and labor costs.” The statement adds that communication with customers ”never faltered” and that “no initial contract payment is ever made without services delivered.”
“While there is no class action lawsuit against Armstrong Steel, we are aware of a small number of customers who became frustrated with pricing due to factors out of our control during the pandemic, such as escalated material and labor costs. Despite these challenges, communications with our buyers never faltered during the difficult times we all endured. Customer satisfaction is our highest priority and though we have thousands of satisfied customers, we continue to work with those specific individuals to resolve all misunderstandings to the best of our ability.
We are always good stewards of our customers' money, and no initial contract payment is ever made without services delivered, which - for the first payment - typically includes engineering, detailing, approval/permit drawings, and the services of a project manager.
As a local business, we’re so proud to be part of the Denver community, and continue to help our clients create and build their dream properties.”
Samhouri said she refused to settle, and while she may never get her refund, she said some principles are worth more than money.
"It's basically a gag order. 'Take this money, be quiet, and send this lie to the news,'" said Samhouri. "And yeah, I could have gotten a couple thousand dollars back and who cares what it does to someone else's career? But I care. I'm not like them. I don't kick people down just to get a buck. That's not how I operate."
"I'm grateful to you guys for doing this reporting and for taking a risk and going on a limb because we need you because we can't win. We are the little guy and they will step on us," Samhouri continued.
As of now, Denver7 has not received any letters from Armstrong's clients alleging misrepresentation.
Attorneys representing the class-action complaint said arbitration proceedings are slated for next year.