Johnson De Vor opens a ventilation latch at the top of the van on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Johnson De Vor opens a ventilation latch at the top of the van on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Van scam swindled disabled Granite Falls woman out of $16K, she says

Mary Stevens, 54, said she trusted her contractor — until he missed deadlines, leading her to miss life events and doctor visits.

GRANITE FALLS — Last summer, Mary Stevens handed over the keys to her van to Robert Miller. She planned to attend her Class of 1987 high school reunion in Montesano.

Stevens, 54, hoped to make the 140 miles journey over the course of a few days, stopping to camp like she did when she was younger.

So she asked Miller, a local contractor, to convert the wheelchair-accessible 1995 Dodge Ram 3500 into a camping van: adding a bed, a shelf, a towing hitch, a camera for backing up and solar panels for the battery, as well as replacing a stereo.

Nine months later, after many missed deadlines and $16,815.56 in payments via Zelle, the contractor returned the van. Miller had replaced the stereo — and done nothing else, according to the clients. To this day, Mary Stevens, whose wheelchair weighs 400 pounds, is homebound. She has missed many celebrations and doctor checkups.

Parts of the van stereo cover the floor on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Parts of the van stereo cover the floor on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Robert Miller “took everything I had,” Mary Stevens said.

Miller denied the allegations.

“This is a joke,” he said in a phone call last week with The Daily Herald. “Oh my God. So they never were billed for anything that wasn’t performed or done, ever.”

In fact, Miller said, the Stevens family still owed him money — “far more” than $1,500. He said he sent an itemized list of all the work he did on the van. He declined to share the list with The Herald.

Texts shared by Mary Stevens showed Miller sent a partial list of work he did on the van, with a promise he would send a longer list later.

Mary Stevens sees it as a cautionary story for others to have better safeguards, so they don’t get taken advantage of in the same way. Her biggest lesson? Only go to licensed contractors from now on — and “only go to people who specialize in what you need done” — even if she considers someone a friend.

‘You’re such a blessing’

Stevens met Miller through a Granite Falls Facebook group, where he advertised himself as a contractor. After Miller worked on the Stevens family motorhome, they pitched him a much bigger project — converting the Dodge van they had bought for $2,000 into a camping van.

Mary and her husband Michael Stevens, who both live off disability payments, had sold their RVs and put those funds toward the van.

Mary Stevens at her home on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mary Stevens at her home on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

They didn’t ask Miller for an estimate. They trusted him. In the nine months he had the van, Miller requested 33 payments for specific repairs or parts. The family sent him the money, even when he didn’t say what it was for.

On the Fourth of July, the Stevenses wanted to drive down to the Everett Marina to see the firework display. Miller reportedly said he would try to have the van drivable by then. He missed the soft deadline.

Michael Stevens’ Social Security backpay came in July. However, the couple was also excluded from Apple Health, which offered transportation to and from the doctor. From then on, Mary Stevens missed her physical therapy appointments.

At the same time, Miller said via text he was making great progress.

“You’ll be completely amazed with it when I’m done no question about it,” he wrote, according to texts she shared.

Mary Stevens thanked him.

“You’re such a blessing to both Mike and I am so glad you’re our mechanic but our great friend too.”

Through the summer and fall, Miller kept promising to finish work by certain dates.

‘Sadly, none of this happened’

Ahead of their 17th anniversary on Sept. 9, the Stevenses checked again with the contractor.

Like every year, they wanted to go to the Washington State Fair in Puyallup and enjoy dinner afterward. Stevens said Miller gave his word the van would be ready, “No problem.” On her anniversary Mary Stevens called Miller, who reportedly said, “It wouldn’t be ready.” A week later, Miller texted Mary Stevens saying: “next few days and she’ll be done done done.”

Mary Stevens thanked Miller on Oct. 1.

“ty Robert for being there for us,” she wrote.

In November, Michael Stevens was planning a big trip for Mary’s birthday. He wanted to take her to a Canton Cafe, a Chinese restaurant in Aberdeen just west of her hometown. Mary Stevens would enjoy her go-to order — pork chow mein, fried rice and egg foo young — surrounded by cousins she hadn’t seen in nearly two decades. After the meal, the family would drive their four Schipperke dogs to see the ocean for the first time.

On Nov. 7, Miller said by text he was “working on it right now actually to make it happen for you.” He canceled on Nov. 11, the day Mary Stevens turned 54.

“Sadly, none of this happened,” Mary Stevens said.

As Thanksgiving approached, an aunt living in Eugene, Oregon, invited the family to drive down.

Johnson De Vor walks around the lift side of the van on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Johnson De Vor walks around the lift side of the van on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

This time, the Stevenses didn’t even bother to pack. They were waiting for the van. Their aunt got a much bigger turkey than her guests would have been able to eat.

Michael Stevens’ birthday approached. The family wanted to check on the van. Miller scheduled a date and time, only to cancel it hours ahead of the appointment.

‘If I have to’

For Michael Stevens’ birthday, his family planned to take him to see Christmas lights around Granite Falls and to Red Lobster.

Two days before Christmas, the family suffered a loss. Rio, their 50-year-old white cockatoo, wasn’t feeling well. But the van wasn’t ready, so she couldn’t visit her emotional support animal at the veterinary clinic. Rio died there.

On Dec. 26, Mary Stevens urged Miller to return the van. Miller reportedly refused, saying it wasn’t drivable and he didn’t want anyone on his property.

Mary Stevens reported her saga to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy drove by Miller’s house, at the Stevenses’ request, but didn’t see the van. Deputies reportedly told Mary Stevens she could take Miller to civil court.

On Jan. 6, Miller threatened to put a lien on the Stevens house if they badmouthed him. Miller told The Herald he would “let his attorney loose on” the Stevens family.

Miller returned the van in late January. He said he had only done front-end work and had poured over 100 hours of labor into it.

Mold grows on the center of the steering wheel on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mold grows on the center of the steering wheel on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Stevenses started fundraising to make the van drivable. J&K Auto in Granite Falls agreed to repair the van for the funds they get.

Now, the Stevenses plan to take Miller to civil court.

Last week, Mary Stevens had a video appointment with her primary care doctor. The doctor told her something was wrong with her lungs and that she was at risk of a heart attack.

“He wants me to go to the ER if I have to, but I can’t,” she said. “I can’t leave my house.”

Aina de Lapparent Alvarez: 425-339-3449; aina.alvarez@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @Ainadla.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A view of one of the potential locations of the new Aquasox stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024 in Everett, Washington. The site sits between Hewitt Avenue, Broadway, Pacific Avenue and the railroad. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
20 businesses could be demolished for downtown Everett stadium

Some business owners say the city didn’t tell them of plans for a new AquaSox stadium that could displace their businesses.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside WSP District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed in a collision on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
State trooper killed, 1 arrested in crash on I-5 near Marysville

Authorities said Trooper Chris Gadd had been stopped along the freeway around 3 a.m. near 136th Street NE. A Lynnwood driver, 32, was arrested.

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pfizer backs out of Everett manufacturing plant after $43B Seagen deal

Pfizer finalized the acquisition of the Bothell-based cancer drug developer in December.

Madi Humphries, 9, Rose Austin, 13, and Eirene Ritting, 8, on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No grades, no teachers: Inside a Bothell school run by student vote

Each day at The Clearwater School, 60 students choose their own lessons. It’s one vote per person, whether you’re staff or student.

SonShine Preschool inside First Baptist Church Monroe is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
SonShine preschool in Monroe to close at the end of the year

The preschool, operated by First Baptist Church, served kids for 25 years. School leadership did not explain the reason behind the closure.

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Following lawsuit, Providence commits to improved care for Deaf patients

Three patients from Snohomish County sued Providence in 2022 for alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations.

Cars drive through snow along I-5 in Snohomish County, Washington on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
In March, 7 p.m. sunsets are back for Western Washington

Washingtonians will finally start seeing more sun starting March 10. But a little more winter could be on the way first.

One of the parking lots at Stevens Pass Thursday afternoon on December 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Stevens Pass to charge $20 for parking reservations on busy days

Two-thirds of spaces will remain free for early arrivers on weekends. Cars with four or more occupants can also park free.

Lynnwood
Days after shootout with Lynnwood police, suspect checks into hospital

Police learned the 18-year-old was in a hospital in Portland, Oregon. His alleged role in the shooting remained unclear.

Everett
Snohomish County pharmacy tech accused of stealing 2,500 opioid pills

Rachel Langdon stole oxycodone while working at a Snohomish County pharmacy, according to state Department of Health allegations.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.