“You suck!” Local business owners want money back after advertising in Kids Directory

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MILWAUKEE— Mark Harmann's great-grandfather started Homestead Animal Farm in Hartland 138 years ago. You might say it's the American dream.

Hartland Farmer

Mark Harmann of Homestead Animal Farm

"We love it,"  Harmann said.

So do all the kids who visit each fall to see the farm in its full glory. But if you leave the farm, and head 20 miles southeast to Milwaukee you'll see a different kind of American dream; a little magic hidden in a trailer off North 76th street at YETA Studios.

"Arts are disappearing from schools at a really horrifying rate," said dance teacher Lauren Ashley.

YETA Studios, which stands for Youth Empowered through the Arts,  is filling that void for inner-city kids.

"Kids that wouldn't get the opportunity to participate in these activities otherwise," Ashley said.

Homestead Animal Farm and YETA Studios are two vastly different small businesses, with one thing in common: Their desire to help kids made them targets.

Dance studio

YETA Studios Head Choreographer and Dance Teacher, Lauren Ashley

They both paid big money to place an advertisement in a free booklet called the Greater Milwaukee Kids Directory.

"These guides would be distributed to local businesses, you know, right here in our area," Ashley said. "They told us doctors offices and grocery stores." They told Harmaan and his wife the same thing.

"As far as I can tell that never happened," Ashley said.

"We never saw one customer come through with any of the coupons," Harmann said.

Both businesses say they paid up front, but when they asked to see a copy of their ad nobody ever got back to them. And if they did, it was after complaints were filed with the Better Business Bureau -- or after months of emailing and calling.

"We told them that we were unhappy with it, that we wanted our money back," Harmann said.

But the owners of the Kids Directory refused to refund their money.

Frustrated, they called the FOX6 Investigators.

"They'll print out maybe one or two copies of this guide and send it to you and say, 'Hey look, this is so pretty. This is the guide,'" Ashley said.  "And then you will never hear from them again."

directories

Kids Directory pamphlets that hit areas in Greater Milwaukee and Northeastern Wisconsin.

This is a list of nearly 300 businesses where the Kids Directory is supposed to be distributed.

For an entire afternoon the FOX6 Investigators went looking for the colorful booklets. Over and over again we found nothing.

More often than not, nobody had ever heard of the pamphlets.

"It really sucks to have that chunk of money go poof," Ashley said.

court records

The Belsha's have a history of not holding up their end of a deal. Court records in Wisconsin, Arizona, and Wisconsin show they often get sued for not following through on contracts.

Curious to see if other local businesses had been burned, we looked up court records. A place called Palette and Pub in Green Bay, Wis., sued the Kids Directory in 2014 for the same thing.

In that case, a judge ordered the Kids Directory to pay back more than $4000 to the local business.

The couple behind the directory, in Green Bay and Milwaukee, is Kathleen and Harry Belsha. They publish the Greater Milwaukee Kids Directory and the Northeast Wisconsin Kids Directory. They were trying to start a Seniors Directory at one point, too.

We found evidence they have quite the history of not holding up their end of a deal.

Lisa Van Donsel met Kathy Belsha in 2013 when she got a call out of the blue from a company called Completely Clean.

"They got me when I was vulnerable," Lisa Van Donsel said.

Van Donsel, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had just gotten out of the hospital.

van donsel talks

Lisa Van Donsel talks about how the Belsha's took advantage of her while recovering from a hospital stay.

"She was very polished. Very likeable. And I was gullible," Van Donsel said.

The Belsha's offered to help clean and declutter her home.

"I just could not do it myself, so I hired them, and like I fool I wrote out a check," Van Donsel said.

And when they asked for more money...

"Like an idiot I wrote out another check," Van Donsel said.

She paid the cleaning company nearly $3,000. And when she refused to pay more, she says they just stopped showing up.

"I want my money back," she said.

Van Donsel sued and won.  But she did not get all of her money back.

"They're going to continue to do this until someone stops them," Van Donsel said.

It's a common complaint heard from Washington State to Wisconsin. Court records show the Belsha's owe more than $75,000 to people who trusted them.

They've been investigated for theft and writing bad checks.  Their cleaning companies, Completely Clean and Cathy's [sic] Cleaning Crew, have taken people to the cleaners.

booking photos

Kathy and Harry Belsha owe money to victims across the U.S.

We looked for them for weeks. A new tenant in one of their former homes told us we weren't the only ones on their trail.

"They don't live here but everybody's always been looking for them here, whether it's the police, neighbors, mail, everything."

Confrontation

Harry Belsha runs from our camera.

We finally found them in Green Bay.

We asked them why they owe so many people so much money. We wanted to see proof they were actually publishing and distributing the Kids Directories. But they ran away from us.

Small business owners like Ashley want the couple to finally be held accountable.

"Stop doing this to small business owners who are already struggling and just go away," she said.

For the businesses, it's not just about the money, it's about the kids who are losing out. YETA Studios, which opened earlier this year, was hoping for full classes this summer. They thought publishing an ad in the directory would do the trick. More kids enrolled would mean healthy competition, camaraderie and sense of community.

"That is what we were trying to get by advertising in this guide," Ashley said.

A lawyer for the Belshas faxed us this packet of information, after weeks of requesting an interview. When asked to show proof that the directories were being published, the Belshas did not respond. Over the phone, Kathy Belsha said the directories are very popular. She says we were not able to locate them at any of the area businesses where they are supposed to be distributed because they "fly off the shelves."

She says the businesses featured in this story were "difficult to work with," though her lawyer writes that their company, Wisconsin Marketing Resources and Publishing, LLC, "works to do right by its clients in all situations."

The Belshas have also been accused by other local businesses of organizing expos, taking money for booth space, and then cancelling the events. Monkey Joes says they paid for ads in the directories and paid to have their monkey attend an expo to take place at the Waukesha Expo Center in October, 2015. The Waukesha Expo Center told us there is no such event scheduled and the Belshas have failed to pay for the space as required by contract.

If you feel you've been wronged by Harry or Kathy Belsha, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau by clicking here.

7 comments

  • Kim

    This is interesting. I had never heard of this directory but just picked one up at my daughters hair salon 2 days ago.

  • Tiffany

    I just saw them at my child’s daycare & at play it again sports today – So they are out there.

  • Nell

    I read through these directories at the Library in Waukesha – it was a bunch of ads but not much else

  • lisa ball

    Sounds like somebody didn’t like their expeirence with this magazine and decided to ruin their life by making a stink through the media instead of trying to make it right with the publishers. In my opinion I think its wrong and not the way I do business. Just because a couple of people got together and called the news station doesn’t make them bad people. Nor them not wanting to talk to the news crew. They just wanted to not incriminate themselves any further by saying the wrong thing to the press. Just because someone doesn’t speak out when you ambush them at their residence doesn’t make them guilty. Come on people, give them a chance. Obviously their book is out there, these people that say its not are looking in places that sell magazines for Vogue and high end magazines are sold. These are directories to boost small businesses locally. I swear it is so hard for small businesses to survive in this day and age because of social media critizising every move you make.

  • iguest76

    Wow. They approached me to advertise my shop in their directory. I’m glad now that I didn’t.

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