By Kelsy Mittauer | CBS11 Special Projects ProducerBy Cristin Severance

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A trail of bad checks and broken promises — that’s what the owner of a local delivery company is accused of leaving behind.

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Hot Route Delivery Specialists contracts with drivers across the country to deliver goods for a variety of companies. But in January, the paychecks began bouncing, and the excuses followed.

“They said ‘give us a little bit of time, someone hacked us, we’ll pay you,’ ” said John Garrett. Melvin Taylor said he was told, “The company was going through some transition — there was some loans, some money that was going to be released.”

Several weeks passed without paychecks. “We kept inquiring, kept texting, kept calling,” Taylor said, adding, “they would give us names of people that would never answer the phone.”

After our first Consumer Justice investigation aired in March, we were contacted by people in Dallas, Houston, Austin, Denver, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, all with similar stories. “That was shocking, to know that it wasn’t just us,” said Roderick Johnson, “How could a guy in America do guys all across America like this?”

Bill Kernan runs a courier company in Philadelphia. He says Hot Route’s owner, Christopher Cassels, kept saying his $11,000 check was in the mail. “He went as far as to create an envelope with a FedEx number and said… ‘it’s on its way.’ I tracked that envelope — it never left his facility.”

David Colletti says Hot Route owes his Denver company $22,000. “I’m irate!” said Colletti, adding, “if he knew he was having problems why did he send out checks to everybody? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Several Dallas-based drivers told Cassels they couldn’t afford to work for free. The men say a Hot Route employee gathered them in a room, with Cassels on speakerphone. “Everybody told him how much he owed and they wrote it all down and said ‘alright we’ll have it for you by lunch,’ ” said Garrett.

But when the men returned from their routes, they were told there was no money. “For him to conduct himself in such a manner,” said Levi Adkisson, “there has to be something that can be done about a person that does something at this level.”

Now one of the companies that contracted with Hot Route is stepping up, to get some of the drivers paid. J.W. Logistics had already paid its invoices months ago, believing the money it paid Hot Route would go to the drivers. After Consumer Justice contacted the company, J.W.’s owner worked out a deal with Hot Route’s finance company to once again pay the drivers the tens of thousands of dollars they are owed.

When we finally caught up to Cassels to ask him about the missing money, he told us he was calling the police and drove away.

Days later, a new group of drivers contacted Consumer Justice. Some had just started working for Hot Route; all were owed money. They were told to collect their paychecks at Hot Route’s office at Texas Motor Speedway but the company had moved out.

More than a dozen drivers have contacted the hot check division of the Denton County District Attorney’s Office. We’re told any check over $2,400 is a felony offense. A conviction could carry a prison sentence of 2 to 20 years and a $10,000 fine.

For months, Cassels declined our requests for an interview until recently when he said he would only talk if we provided a list of questions beforehand.

CBS11 did not agree to those demands.

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