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Refund on way in organ dispute

The music company whose employee is accused of exploiting an elderly woman says she'll be repaid, and get to keep her organ.

By STEVE THOMPSON
Published May 28, 2005


PORT RICHEY - The 79-year-old Alzheimer's patient who bought 11 organs in 18 months from a music store will get her money back and keep her organ, too.

She also is "more than welcome to continue taking music lessons with our staff as long as she is able to enjoy playing a musical instrument," Fletcher Music Centers said a statement Friday.

The company said it is putting the store manager who allegedly sold the organs on leave until his case is decided.

The manager, Scott Lewis Heyder, was arrested Thursday on a charge of exploiting the elderly. Pasco County sheriff's officials accuse him of selling the organs after the woman's family told him of her Alzheimer's and asked him to stop.

"We will continue serving our customers with integrity and care," the company's president, John Riley, said Friday in a written statement. "And hope that this incident will not tarnish a reputation for quality and fairness that everyone at Fletcher Music Centers has worked so hard to achieve."

An attorney representing the woman's family said Friday afternoon that he had not heard about the company's statement.

"But I have a feeling that that offer would go a long way toward resolving things," attorney Timothy Weber said.

The woman, he said, "is finally starting to realize what happened to her. I think she didn't realize quite how much money went out the window."

Sheriff's Office officials said Heyder convinced her to keep upgrading to fancier organs. She spent $25,400 during 18 months and ended up with a $12,464 organ, officials said. Her name is being withheld for her protection.

"My understanding is just that she is seeking a little privacy," Weber said. "She's probably a little embarrassed."

Weber said he will meet with the woman's family next week to discuss the next step.

"It sounds like if Fletcher Music is willing to make this thing right, they'll probably just chalk it up as experience," he said. "I don't think they're looking to get into litigation with this outfit."

Weber sued the company in 1998 on behalf of more than two dozen victims after a Fletcher salesman was sentenced to 16 years in state and federal prisons for grand theft and bank fraud. Jeffrey Snyder involved customers in an investment scam and, among other things, sold multiple organs to elderly customers.

The lawsuit, which was settled out of court, contended the company "trains and directs its marketing and sales staff ... to develop in its customers a false sense of trust, friendship, confidence and reliance upon" them.

The West Florida Better Business Bureau, however, of which Fletcher Music is a member, reports only one customer complaint about the company during the past three years. It involved customer service by the company's Bradenton location.

The Attorney General's Office has received two letters of complaint about the company since August 2002, a spokesman there said. The contents of the letters were not immediately available.

The company said it sells organs from 30 locations in Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

Heyder, who was released from the Land O'Lakes jail Thursday on $10,000 bail, did not return calls for comment.

"The charges against Mr. Heyder are of great concern to everyone at Fletcher Music Centers, which has built strong personal relationships with thousands of loyal customers for nearly 30 years," the company's statement said.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office continues to investigate.

"We haven't gotten any calls about more victims as of yet," Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll said. He asked anyone with information to call (727) 844-7797.

[Last modified May 28, 2005, 00:10:05]


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