For the dozens of Lafayette residents still waiting for their prepaid furniture and décor to arrive from the now defunct W. Home Furnishings in River Ranch, a group of Baton Rouge shoppers is looking to join your victims’ club.

In The Independent’s Aug. 31 cover story “Warding Off,” numerous angry W. Home Furnishings customers shared their stories on pre-paying for thousands of dollars worth of furniture they never received from W. owners Rene and Nina Ward. As patrons like Cherie Hebert and Ryan Burley pressed on to find out the status of their merchandise, First Bank and Trust stepped in to seize the store’s assets, officially closing the business on Aug. 18.

The Wards, who lived in River Ranch and opened a second fine furniture store in Baton Rouge late last year, skipped town in the middle of the night, and now the bank has filed a lawsuit seeking payment and interest on a $150,000 business loan that hasn’t been paid in months, according to court documents filed by First Bank and Trust. The bank is also trying to secure the assets that Rene Ward stashed in a storage unit on Feu Follet Road.

Perkins Rowe General Manager Rick Balow of Baton Rouge was out of the country when the W. Home Furnishings fiasco culminated. He returned to find that the Wards fled the state without paying their last month’s rent in Baton Rouge, but Balow says he could have dealt with that blow better had he not personally been stiffed on $12,000 worth of prepaid furniture and décor from W. Home Furnishings.

When the Wards approached Balow about renting a space in Perkins Rowe, he visited their Lafayette location and thought it would be an ideal furniture fit for the retail center. Balow says he hired Nina Ward to redecorate an apartment complex building he owns. The entire project was going to cost more than $50,000, he says, the first $12,000 of which had already been paid.

“From what I’m hearing, they did the same thing here that they did in Lafayette,” Balow says. “There are a number of people who ordered furniture, paid deposits or paid in full and never received their merchandise.”

The Lafayette Police Department is investigating at least six complaints against the Wards that date back to November 2010, says Lafayette Police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton. Detectives have subpoenaed computer records to determine where the money was spent, but it could be months before the investigation is complete.  

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