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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”