SAN ANTONIO – →Read the Defenders investigation here. Watch the full story tonight on KSAT 12 at 10 p.m.
Selling a home to live in an old school bus may sound like a strange thing to do, but it’s a growing trend as couples and families search for more freedom by living on the road.
Enthusiasts call it living “the Skoolie Life” and converting those old buses into mobile homes is becoming a big business.
But over the past five months, the KSAT Defenders found multiple customers who said they were duped after hiring a local bus conversion business. They claimed they were taken for a ride, emotionally and financially.
Lone Star Skoolie Conversions
Jim and Trudi Krupocki said they hired Lone Star Skoolie Conversions to turn an old school bus they bought into a home-on-the-road.
For Jim, it seemed time was running was short. He had survived a bout with colon cancer and was also dealing with Stage 3 liver disease.
He and Trudi wanted to spend their remaining time together traveling the country visiting with friends and family. They planned to sell their Northern California home to finance their dream.
“He’s going to be facing a liver transplant. And, you know, we were looking at things of making our life easier and simpler,” Trudi Krupocki said. “And we thought that eliminating a mortgage with that would be a simpler thing.” The couple found the San Antonio company on social media and were impressed by owner Benjamin Potts’ videos promoting his business. After a few conversations, they decided to trust him.
“(Ben) told us he was an engineer. He told us he was the expert,” Trudi Krupocki said. “He (said he) would get things done so fast that we would be on the road building memories like immediately, you know, six to eight weeks.” The Krupocki’s agreed to pay Potts $100,000 for the build, giving him $75,000 up front to get the project started last year. Not long after, they say their lives were sent on a detour that has left them financially wrecked.
“It’s really frustrating. You think you’re doing everything right and then something like this comes along,” Jim Krupocki said. “It has completely changed the trajectory of what we had built on for years for ourselves.” When the couple came to San Antonio to pick their new home up in August, they got an unpleasant surprise. The bus wasn’t done. They lived out of hotels as the weeks dragged into months.
“It was like being in a toxic relationship with no end,” Trudi said. “It was almost like being held captive by our bus and he already had our money.” The couple said they were told at least four times the bus was done, but when they arrived to make their final payment, it was clear the bus was not even close to being finished.
Fed up with all the delays and mistakes they had witnessed workers make, they agreed to pay Potts just to get the bus back in their hands, signing a document accepting the bus “as is”.
“We knew it was a mess, even though Ben was standing right in front of us, telling us our bus was worth $100,000,” Trudi recalled. “There was no way it was worth even $10,000.”
‘Not a quality job’
The bus was full of defects. The woodwork and painting was sloppy and the toilet wasn’t properly installed.
“You could peel up the flooring. The adhesiveness of the flooring is the equivalent of a Post-It Note,” Jim said. “Literally a baby could pull it up. That’s not a quality job.” The problems only got worse when they had a Skoolie expert take a look at the bus. Ross Taylor found electrical hazards, some of them potentially deadly.
“Clearly it wasn’t even done by a trained or novice electrician,” Taylor said. “There are things done in here that a first week apprentice electrician wouldn’t do.” Taylor said he was astonished when he saw the generator was hooked up to the bus’ electrical system. It had something he called a “suicide cable.”
“It’s called a widow-maker cable or death cord because you’ve got high voltage electricity on prongs,” Taylor said. “You can’t buy these because they’re not safe. I mean they’re super dangerous.”
The Defenders identified more than 20 customers who said they didn’t get what they paid for. During a group video call in March, the customers said their buses were full of cosmetic defects and had similar electrical hazards as those found on the Krupocki’s bus.
Austin-based photographers Zack and Taryn Marks hired Lone Star Skoolie to add two air conditioners and extra storage to their bus, which had been converted to an RV by a previous owner.
“We were told there would be a full undermount storage and two functional ACs. One week. Done deal,” Zack Marks said. “We got there and nothing had been done. Our bus had not been moved.”
When that one week job dragged into 3 weeks, the couple got fed up and pulled their bus before it was finished. But not before they said Ben Potts offered to “make things right” by adding more solar panels with extra materials he had around the warehouse.
Marks showed us the finished work.
“All different wires, different ages, not the gauge they’re supposed to be for the circuit going through them,” Marks said.
The air conditioners don’t work and the storage they paid for was too small to store anything but small items, Marks said. The couple said they lost $15,000 and will need to spend even more to fix the damage Lone Star Skoolie caused.
“We wanted it done right without concern for (the) safety for our family,” Marks said. “And the sad part is electrically, it’s a death trap.” Potts invited the Defenders to his warehouse to see how his business operates.
He blamed most of the problems on a former contractor.
“I started contracting out a couple of builds because we started getting very busy,” Potts said. “And we noticed that every single one that he touched are the ones that are upset.”
He said he had no idea his customers were being delivered buses with so many problems until he saw videos online.
“That gave me a heart attack instantly because that’s not what I want to go out,” Potts said. “That’s when I knew and I can start seeing it and I could see that pattern.”
The Defenders contacted that contractor for a response, who said that they only provided workers to the company and that any subsequent work that was done was at the direction of Lone Star Skoolie Conversions.
Potts also blamed the customers for organizing against him.
“They’ve destroyed my company,” Potts said. “They’ve done everything to tear me apart and tear this company apart when we’ve had no bad intentions.” Eventually, Potts took some responsibility, admitting he took on more customers than he could handle, resulting in shoddy work.
Still, Potts committed to fixing the buses or giving customers full refunds.
“We’re willing to investigate into every single customer’s problem. And we are going to investigate every single one of those customers that are having the complaints out there,” Potts said.
Some former customers said their experience trying to get a refund from Potts was different.
Potts sued in court
Air Force veteran Lauryn Daugherty said her experience with Lone Star Skoolie was an ongoing nightmare.
“My bus was delivered mid-December and we’re now in May,” Daugherty said. “And it’s been the back and forth. ‘Oh, we’re going to fix it or we’re going to do this or we contacted this person to fix it.’”
She said her bus was delivered with a smashed-in windshield. She also said the driver hired to deliver it had a stack of tickets he racked up driving the bus from Texas to Arizona.
Inside the bus was worse. The floor was rotted and filled with mold and rust.
When she checked the title, she got an unwelcome surprise — The bus had previously been flooded, something she said Potts never disclosed to her.
Even worse, Daugherty claims that she was later contacted by another Lone Star Skoolie customer who believed Daugherty was in possession of the same bus for which she also had already paid Potts.
“We determined that it was (the same bus) based on the VIN,” Daugherty said. “So he sold the bus to them and they had been waiting on their full conversion.”
Daugherty claimed Potts didn’t properly transfer the title.
“It was never transferred into his name,” she said. “So I have to get a bonded title.” Potts said the transaction was all a big mistake. He didn’t know the bus had been flooded, he said.
“(The title) wasn’t given to me personally, but to (my) employees,” Potts said. “If we knew about that, we would absolutely never let anything like that happen.”
Potts wouldn’t get into details about the other couple who told Daugherty they bought the same bus from Potts, but said he is currently paying them back.
After spending months waiting for Potts to fix her bus, Daugherty flew to San Antonio and filed a lawsuit in small claims court on May 6.
“If I can do something about it to make sure that somebody else isn’t hurt, whether or not I get my money back is minuscule in the larger scheme of things,” Daugherty said.
She was joined by Joe Baker, an army veteran who is also suing Potts. According to his suit, the company took $15,000 from him but did not do any work on his veteran outreach bus. He has a court date on June 7.
“He is taking people’s money and not providing a service and or just blatantly just ripping people off,” Baker claimed. “Best case scenario, I get my money back. Worst case scenario, I don’t.”
The Defenders learned of a third veteran who sued Potts for violating the state’s deceptive trade practices act, winning a judgment of over $26,000 dollars which Potts has since paid.
Despite the legal troubles, Potts is still converting buses and said he’s doing it even better. He’s hoping the changes he’s made to his business will win back customers.
“We’re going to get their money back to them. We’re going to take care of them. We’re not going to leave nobody high and dry. The people that were scared that heard this stuff, I’m sorry,” Potts said.
But some of his former customers said their minds are made up.
“I would love for him is to be honest, and but I just don’t think it’ll happen,” Trudi Krupocki said. “I just don’t think he’s capable.”
Several customers say they feel stuck with unlivable buses they can’t even sell because of the electrical hazards.
Potts insisted that he’s one of the best Skoolie builders in the business, and on Friday afternoon, started supplying the Defenders with names of customers who he says were happy with their builds. The Defenders are working on confirming that information and will update the story if necessary.