Equipment dealer deludes some, aids others

Ron Sassetti earns mixed reviews from veterinarians

November 2, 2011 (published)
By David DeKok

Ron Sassetti was ordered to repay $376,740 to investors last July, after he pleaded guilty to theft by fraud. Photo courtesy of the Janesville Gazette.
Dr. Daniel Heder never imagined acquiring CT scanner would be difficult.

Problems have plagued the veterinarian since last January, when he purchased a refurbished General Electric Pro-Speed scanner from Veterinary Equipment and Technology Supply. Ten months later, he's still without the machine — and $11,000 in payments.

“I thought I’d done my due diligence, but I never, of course, would have thought to go into circuit court records" to research this company, Heder said in an interview with the VIN News Service.

Had he checked court records, Heder might have learned that Ronald. F. Sassetti, owner of Veterinary Equipment and Technology Supply, had amassed a list of unsatisfied customers and business associates that include veterinarians, investors, banks and credit card companies, during the past decade. Some have filed civil complaints.

Sassetti runs Veterinary Equipment and Technology Supply from his home on the shores of Wisconsin's Lake Geneva. In an interview with the VIN News Service, he blamed his legal woes on unscrupulous customers and business deals gone awry.

But that explanation hasn't deflected Sassetti's troubles with the law. In June, he pleaded guilty to theft by fraud in criminal court for taking $60,000 from a family trust he was doing business with to purchase a nuclear camera for another client, a specialty practice in Fairfax, Va. Court documents show that Sassetti has agreed to repay the money.

As for Heder, Sassetti said the veterinarian "has an ax to grind." He said the CT scanner Heder purchased was in storage for several months because its delivery was stalled by bad weather. In addition, land use regulations for the location of Heder's practice needed to change to prepare the site for the unit. While in storage, rodents invaded the machine and damaged it.

Heder said that Sassetti made a series of excuses for not delivering the machine before admitting, months later, that rodents destroyed its wiring.

Heder tried to cancel the deal by asking Sassetti to return $45,000 that was paid on the veterinarian's behalf by KLC Financial, a lease financing company based in Minnesota. Sassetti is making some effort to repay the money, according to a receipt showing that he wired $1,400 to KLC Financial on Sept. 14.

Sassetti told the VIN News Service that he is “having conversations” with KLC Financial about paying back $33,000 of the $45,000 he owes. Officials with KLC Financial declined to speak publicly about the matter.

Sassetti said Heder's negative experience doing business with him has been exaggerated by the veterinarian. What's more, it's an anomaly, he said.

To prove he's had satisfied customers, Sassetti provided the VIN News Service with five references from the veterinary profession. Two responded to media inquiries; they confirmed to have satisfactory experiences with Sassetti.

Dr. Zach Ricker, of Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists, reported no problems after the hospital ordered and took delivery of a General Electric 4-Slice CT Scanner from Sassetti.

Nelson Ramirez, a practice manager for Deerfield Animal Hospital in Illinois, said he has known Sassetti for 20 years and purchased two scanners from him. Of the last machine Sassetti sold him, Ramirez noted: "He installed it, he had it serviced and everything went perfectly. He did delivery when he was supposed to and even went above and beyond.”

Other veterinarians, whose names were not proffered by Sassetti, have less complimentary stories. Dr. Jeffrey House, of Hoffman Estates Animal Hospital in South Barrington, Ill., ordered a unit from Sassetti roughly eight years ago.

“He did produce a scanner for us,” House said. “The machine went down, and there was a tremendous delay in getting it fixed. That happened shortly after we got it. That was the first bad thing. And then when the tube went out and they didn’t replace it, that was it.”

Based on his experience, House characterized Sassetti as “a very bad businessman and not someone I think should be trying to help veterinarians.”

When asked to respond by the VIN News Service, Sassetti said that "every company has dissatisfied customers."

The late Dr. John Whitefield is another. In January 2003, the owner of Hudson Highlands Veterinary Medical Group in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., ordered two anesthesia machines, an autoclave and a used General Electric fluoroscopy unit from Sassetti. Total price: $125,270, of which $108,280 went toward the fluoroscopy unit. A leasing company financed the deal.

The anesthesia machine and autoclave were delivered to the practice. The fluoroscopy unit never made it.

Jim Babcock, Whitefield's nephew by marriage, said he twice met with Sassetti on his uncle's behalf to discuss the equipment deal.

“He promised an awful lot and never came through with it," recalled Babcock, who works as an investigator with the Putnam County Sheriff's Department in New York. "He had my uncle sign the lease even though the equipment was not here."

Soon after the deal closed, Sassetti began making excuses for not delivering the fluoroscopy unit, Babcock said. While waiting for the machine and in the midst of building an 11,000-square-foot practice, Whitefield became ill and died.

Sassetti told the VIN News Service that his service engineer visited the site of Whitefield's practice to measure and inspect the building for installation but was told that the veterinarian passed away, and the practice no longer wanted the equipment.

That's not what a lawsuit filed in June 2005 by Hudson Highlands Veterinary Medical Group against Sassetti and his company contends. The complaint — entered in Dutchess County Supreme Court in Poughkeepsie, N.Y, but transferred to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York — accused Sassetti of having "failed and refused" to deliver the fluoroscopy unit to Whitefield.

Sassetti responded by denying many of the allegations and requesting that the lawsuit be dismissed.

The case settled in favor of Hudson Highlands in May 2006. Sassetti agreed to pay $65,000 to Whitefield's veterinary hospital in monthly installments of $10,000. In September 2006, the judge increased the award to $77,500 after Sassetti was directed to compensate the practice for its legal fees, which raised the installments to $12,500.

Court documents show that Nixon Peabody LLP in Garden City, N.Y., withdrew as Sassetti's legal representation on June 23, 2006, shortly after the settlement was reached. In his motion for withdrawal, Nixon Peabody partner Andrew Rose stated that Sassetti failed to cooperate with his lawyers, made "misrepresentations concerning his intentions" and was "delinquent in his fiscal obligations to the firm."

Whitefield's widow, Dr. Twila Whitefield, reports that Hudson Highlands has not received a penny of the settlement. A $10,000 check that Sassetti initially wrote to the practice bounced, she said. When asked to confirm this, Sassetti admitted that he hadn't paid on the settlement but provided no further explanation.

“If I’m not mistaken, I think we have a lien on his property,” Twila Whitefield said. “But I suspect there are a whole bunch of people ahead of me.”

Walworth County assessed the value of Sassetti’s home in Fontana, Wis., at $1.38 million in 2010. The property has been targeted by creditors and threatened with foreclosure. Sassetti held off sheriff's sales on four separate occasions, most recently on Dec. 2, 2010. Each time, he came up with enough money to forestall the auction, the Walworth County Sheriff's Office reported.

The case that landed Sassetti in criminal court is complex. At its core was Sassetti's relationship with several outside investors in Wisconsin and Illinois, namely the late James Green and his sons Michael and Clancy, who operated via KEM Northern, LLC, a holding company for Green family assets and investments.

In 2009, Michael Green, an attorney, prepared a statement detailing the family’s complaints against Sassetti. The statement was released to the VIN News Service by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, which had a companion case against Sassetti that accused him of violating state securities laws for some of the same allegations outlined by Green.

According to Green's account, Sassetti approached the James and Mary Green Family Trust in May 2005, seeking $60,000 to finance the lease of a nuclear camera to SouthPaws Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center in Fairfax, Va. Sassetti also owed the Greens an additional $298,500 that he had borrowed in 2003 and 2004, according to a promissory note he signed in 2006.

The Greens approved the $60,000 loan, and Sassetti assigned the lease to KEM Northern, of which the family trust was a part. He told the Greens that lease payments would begin on Aug. 1, 2005, but SouthPaws never made payments. Sassetti told the Greens that there were quality problems with the camera.

In September 2006, Michael Green contacted SouthPaws and spoke with the veterinarian who owned the hospital. Dr. Bart Siemering stated that the nuclear camera had never been delivered, and the practice no longer was doing business with Sassetti. When confronted, Sassetti admitted to Green that he never purchased the nuclear camera and had used the $60,000 “for other purposes,” Green's statement said.

“I believe this was nothing but fraud on behalf of Sassetti,” Michael Green wrote to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. “He took the money without having the lease in place and did not admit to the lease never being in place until after I spoke to SouthPaws.”

The VIN News Service attempted to contact Siemering at SouthPaws to verify Green's story but was told that VCA Antech, which now owns the practice, had to approve the interview. Officials with the veterinary hospital chain did not respond to media inquiries regarding the case.

In August 2006, Sassetti signed a promissory note in the amount of $358,500 to cover his debts to the Green family trust, using his $1.38-million home as collateral. By the end of 2008, only "repeated promises" and "minimal payments" had been made, Green said in his statement.

Green warned Sassetti in writing that he had until Dec. 31, 2008, to pay at least $100,000 that he owed or KEM Northern would begin foreclosure proceedings. Green included in the letter that he had contacted the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions “regarding the fraudulent acts you have taken to receive the money that is now owed to KEM Northern, LLC.” He vowed to pursue litigation against Sassetti and his wife “for the fraud and theft involved in taking money from KEM Northern, LLC, and the conversion of those funds for your own personal use.”

Green also warned Sassetti that he would contact the Walworth County District Attorney.

In his interview with VIN News Service, Sassetti acknowledged that he took $60,000 from the Green Family Trust and stated that he used it to purchase a CT scanner for another veterinary client whom he did not identify. He then noted that the CT scanner he referred to had never been delivered and "is sitting in our warehouse and as part of the settlement agreement, when that equipment is sold, Michael Green will get the money.”

Sassetti said he has been complying with the terms of a settlement agreement with Green for the past 10 months, and Green acknowledged he is current in his payments.

That's not where Sassetti's legal troubles end. In March 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions concluded that Sassetti's promissory note to the Greens amounted to illegal sales of securities under state law and issued a cease and desist order. “Any future violations will expose (Sassetti) to potential criminal felony prosecution,” Kathryn Denton, an investigator for the department, wrote in a letter to Green that was released to VIN News Service.

Meanwhile, the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office took the case a step further and prosecuted. On June 24, Sassetti pleaded guilty to committing theft by fraud against the Green Family Trust. He told the VIN News Service that he entered the plea based on advice from his attorney, who suggested the deal might save him money. Sassetti was sentenced to five years of probation with the proviso that he must make $376,740 in restitution to the Green family by mid-2014, or face a year in jail.

Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo, who prosecuted the case, said she was unaware that Sassetti had defaulted on a restitution agreement to the Hudson Highlands Veterinary Medical Group. “It is unfortunate that we didn’t know of the information ... before we reached a plea agreement,” she said in an e-mail to the VIN News Service. “We will keep that information in our file.”

Sassetti said that information provided to the VIN News Service via court documents, former clients and business partners presents an incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of him and his company. He declined to further explain his position.

“I believe you may find when the full and complete string of facts have been pointed out, that I personally and this company have been painted to be something we are not by a disgruntled customer and a vindictive lawyer over business deals that simply went in another direction, and both could have been settled without this venomous attack," he said.

"We have never deliberately cheated anyone out of a dime," he added. "This is a little bit of a slaughter to my character."

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