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2 Investigators: Consultant Accused Of Ripping Off Small Businesses

Althea Taylor, owner of Taylor Made Industries, talks to CBS 2's Pam Zekman about allegations from clients that she charged them thousands of dollars for help starting small businesses, then didn't do the work she'd promised. (Credit: CBS)

Althea Taylor, owner of Taylor Made Industries, talks to CBS 2’s Pam Zekman about allegations from clients that she charged them thousands of dollars for help starting small businesses, then didn’t do the work she’d promised. (Credit: CBS)

Pam Zekman Pam Zekman
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – They wanted to start a small business or expand one, then lost thousands of dollars to a company they paid to help them.

“I want my money back,” said Leatrice Woody, the owner of Buff & Go. She needed a business plan to increase her sales of portable work stations she designed for nail technicians, so they can do manicures and pedicures in people’s homes.

CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports Woody paid $2,340 up-front to a company called Taylor Made Industries to get a business plan to show to investors or banks.

“The business plan would allow me to get funding,” Woody said.

The contract she signed with company owner Althea Taylor estimated the turnaround time for getting the work done as 6 to 8 weeks for less complex plans, and 8 to 10 weeks for more complex plans, based on the date a client provided all the needed information.

Woody said she provided all the information, but more than a year later she still had no business plan.

“She sells you this dream,” Woody said. “She has you come aboard, and then she don’t deliver.” Woody believes she was “ripped off!”

Woody could not get Taylor to refund the money she paid, so she filed a lawsuit against to get the money back.

“There is nothing that I have done wrong,” Taylor told CBS 2’s Pam Zekman after her first court appearance. But Taylor recently settled the case and refunded the money. Taylor blamed an employee she hired to write the business plan for failing to finish the work, and said she offered to give Woody the refund before the lawsuit was filed.

In another case, Sheronda Buchanan borrowed most of the $6,750 she paid Taylor to help her start an adult day care center.

“She told me that she had all of these connections that she could help me get into this business and do it right,’” Buchanan recalled.

But it didn’t happen. Taylor’s company did get her company incorporated and scouted a few possible locations, but never followed through, Buchanan said.

Taylor agreed to give her a refund of $2,500 when Buchanan found someone else to write her business plan, but Buchanan said she never got the check. Now she wants all of her money back.

“It was totally devastating,” Buchanan said. “You know $6,700 just up in smoke.”

Taylor said she told Buchanan she could not own an adult day care center, because state law requires that the owner of a facility have two years’ experience working with the elderly. But that’s only if you want to apply for government funding, Buchanan pointed out, and she had other plans.

Meanwhile, Taylor has a state contract that could pay an estimated $101,087 for her to provide technical support services for disadvantaged business enterprises that want to bid on work with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

She also is a minority subcontractor on a city deal with Allied Services Group Inc, a firm hired to “transport deceased persons” for the Chicago Police Department. Under the arrangement Taylor is supposed to make sure Allied provides the services, and for that she is to be paid 5 percent of Allied’s billings. Allied could make up to $7 million dollars over three years for the deal, and Taylor’s share could be up to $350,000.

Taylor’s former clients question the wisdom of the government contracts.

“She has not done the work in her very own business,” Buchanan pointed out.

Another problem: On the professional networking site Linkedin, Taylor listed a law degree from Northwestern University, which impressed clients.

But Northwestern officials could find no record of that, and Taylor removed that information from her Linkedin page after Leatrice Woody challenged it.

“She told me she was a corporate lawyer, that she has a corporate law degree,” Woody recalled. “And I’m like wow.”

And Buchanan said, “She told me she was an attorney.”

She’s not. And Taylor denied ever telling clients she was an attorney.

There are more apparent embellishments in the Taylor Made Industries booklet she gives out to clients. A profile of Taylor says she has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Chicago and two master’s degrees from Northwestern University, one in Public Administration and another in Human Resource Management. It also says she “Acquired her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction for Adult Instruction from Northwestern.
But officials from both universities told CBS 2 they could find no record of attendance for anyone with her name and birthdate.
When asked about the Doctorate degree the resume says she “acquired,” Taylor at first told Zekman that it said she was a “candidate” for a doctorate.

Later she said, “I have said that I acquired. I’m working to acquire, I’m in school.”

“You don’t have a doctorate now?” Zekman asked

“No,” Taylor responded.

Taylor did not comment when asked about all the other degrees from Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

Officials confirmed Taylor does have a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Robert Morris College and a Masters in Public Administration from DeVry University

What about the former clients who complained to CBS 2 that they did not get what they paid for? In each case, Taylor blamed the client or employees who failed to do the work she hired them for.

“We have helped 2,000 clients in 43 states,” she said.

But she refused to provide documentation.

“Well people would like to see the color of my a**, but they don’t,” she said.

For free help starting a business or expanding it you can find all kinds of information on the website for the Small Business Administration, at the links below:

Building Your Business Plan

SBA Learning Center

SBA Community Networking