Classic car owners could get minimal payback in Myrtle Beach area automobile restorer’s bankruptcy case

Classic car owners who say they were ripped off by a Longs automobile restoration business could get back some of their money – albeit far less than they are owed – under a proposal filed this week in federal bankruptcy court.

Michelle Vieira – the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the estate of Kenny Key and his wife – wants to auction off tools and other equipment Key has at his Kenny’s Kustoms restoration shop to help pay creditors, many of them car owners who say in court documents that Key ruined their vehicles and stole their automobile parts.

Vieira wants to hold the auction at 10 a.m. on May 31 at the Kenny’s Kustoms location at 1985 S.C. 9 West. A bankruptcy judge must first approve the auction and a hearing is tentatively scheduled for May 20 in Charleston. If approved, Vieira would hire Bob Robeson & Associates of Chesterfield to liquidate Key’s property.

The sale is expected to raise between $8,000 and $10,000 with as much as 15 percent of the proceeds going to Robeson’s company, depending on the final tally. The trustee also expects to spend up to $4,000 to advertise the auction “due to the complex, labor-intensive nature of identifying, valuing and organizing all parts and inventory, as well as appropriate target marketing necessary to get the best bids at the auction.”

If the auction raises $10,000 there could be as little as $4,500 left over for Key’s creditors. With more than $613,000 in claims filed against Key, the auction income would represent less than a penny for every dollar owed.

Vieira said in court documents that she wants to sell all of the tools – including lifts, compressors, paint guns and hand tools – as well as automobile parts, automobiles, a boat, boat parts, a trailer used for storage, automobile frames, tires, hoses, furniture and other miscellaneous items located at Key’s shop.

Key previously told The Sun News that the items belonged to mechanics who had worked for him in the past. Key also tried to sell the tools and other equipment through Craigslist advertisements after he had filed for bankruptcy protection in November.

Key’s finances came under heavy scrutiny once Vieira learned of the Craigslist ads and after she received letters from former customers who recounted their experiences with Kenny’s Kustoms and complained about Key’s attempts to liquidate his debts.

Bobby Ward, an Andrews resident, is one of the former customers who complained about Key’s bankruptcy. Ward told The Sun News that he gave $16,000 to Key to restore a 1939 Ford pickup truck. A year after taking the truck to Key, Ward said he learned no work had been done and Key refused to refund his money. When Ward finally retrieved the truck, he learned that its chassis had been cut and then welded back together in a way that made it unsafe to ever drive again.

Among the largest civil judgments filed against Key is $275,950 award to Virginia resident William Elliott, who told The Sun News that Key took money to restore a pair of automobiles – a 1955 Ford Thunderbird and a 1966 Ford Mustang convertible – but never did any work. Elliott said both cars were ruined while sitting untouched at Kenny’s Kustoms.

Following the financial scrutiny and customer complaints, Key agreed to waive a discharge of any of his debts in the bankruptcy case. A judge approved the waiver this week.

Key’s bankruptcy documents show Kenny’s Kustoms took in $165,555 in 2011 and $103,029 the following year. Key reported that he paid himself a $1,000 monthly salary. It’s not clear where the rest of the money from Kenny’s Kustoms has gone. On bankruptcy documents, Key and his wife say they own no real property and their vehicles – a 2003 Chevy Silverado and a 2004 Chevy Suburban – are worth less than $10,000 combined. Their other reported assets total about $4,000 – mostly clothing and household items.