OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – With storms always on the horizon, Karlena Ashley bought a shelter with family in mind.
“Got the cellar only cause we had the kids and the babies, grandbabies and all that,” she explained.
Karlena was in the market for a shelter nearly five years ago, meeting the folks from RN Concrete Products at the State Fair.
Karlena would opt for a concrete shelter, costing nearly $3,700 with a 10-year warranty.
It was installed in her front yard, not by RN Concrete, but by Ground Zero Storm Shelters.
But Karlena says her shelter had issues early on.
“First year, it started cracking out,” she added.
With her product still under warranty, RN Concrete came out a handful of times over the years to patch it up.
But those patch jobs stopped nearly two years back. She says her shelter now fills up every time it rains.
“[RN Concrete] just told us to pump it out till they could get us on the list,” said Karlena. “We’ve been on the list for two years.”
Then in late 2019, there was bad news for Karlena. RN Concrete announced they were closing their doors. Their website, which has since shutdown, had a statement blaming the state’s PIE Program.
The program enables inmates to make money behind bars by making a number of products, including storm shelters, to help their transition back into society.
Karlena was left with a broken shelter and a seemingly worthless warranty, and turned to the company who installed the shelter in the first place.
“I’m assuming it’s Ground Zero that took over,” she said. “But we haven’t heard anything.”
We stopped by the closed business in Perry, finding the RN logo still proudly displayed on the building, and a number of concrete trucks coming to and from the lot. There were also Ground Zero trucks on property.
Up the road at Ground Zero Shelters, we found other RN trucks hard at work pouring concrete in the parking lot.
Confused? Turns out, both companies are run by a man named Richard Crow.
We stopped by Ground Zero to speak with Mr. Crow.
“Why would I break one company to fix up another,” he responded, when asked why Ground Zero Shelters couldn’t step in and handle RN Concrete’s warranties.
When asked why customers couldn’t get answers, Crow again blamed the state program.
“Prisons put us out of business,” he said. “We’ve been competing against prisons.”
When asked what consumers with outstanding warranties should do, he responded:
“I would tell the consumer to call the governor and let them know of the problems going on in the state.”
State officials steadfastly deny these claims. A spokesperson responded to KFOR with the following statement:
“ODOC is aware of the statements made by RN Concrete. OCI has never produced the type of storm shelter that is generating warranty claims for RN Concrete. Our inmate labor is charged at the Prevailing Wage for the job provided. That wage is determined by the Department of Labor and is slightly higher than most local laborers. We will continue to provide our inmates with work and opportunities to better themselves while they strive to become productive members of society, both during their incarceration and upon their release.”
Karlena is far from alone. A number of other customers are crying foul, complaining of warranty issues online.
They all hope for answers before the next storm strikes.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Karlena.
Customers with warranty complaints with RN Concrete are asked to file a complaint with the State Attorney General’s Office.