When Donna Nunes’ brother died last year, she was heartbroken. The 73-year-old traveled to South Florida from California to settle her brother’s estate and in doing so found a local consignment store, the Peculiar Pelican, to sell his belongings.
Now, a year later, Nunes is crying foul — saying she’s been cheated.
“He’s just a crook,” she said.
And she’s not the only one who believes that.
SFGN interviewed a half dozen customers of the Peculiar Pelican in Fort Lauderdale who have accused its business owner, Johnny “JT” Lee Thompson, of ripping them off.
Thompson’s customers, or consignors as they are called in the consignment business, accuse him of not paying them for items he’s sold, writing bad checks, and finally of shoddy record-keeping.
Thompson, who is gay, spoke to SFGN for more than 40 minutes to respond to the accusations, mostly blaming his misfortunes on the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down his business for now.
Thompson, who has been in the consignment industry for 20 years, said before COVID-19 he had no issues with his consignors.
“No one expected what happened to happen. No one could foresee what this COVID-19 has caused,” he said. “I thought, OK well, we’ll be down a couple of weeks or something, and then we will be back to normal.”
Ginger Berluti, one of the accusers, doesn’t buy the pandemic argument.
“He’s such a good con artist. He makes you feel comfortable. He’s very friendly and personable,” she said. “He’s been doing this for years. This was before COVID. COVID is a convenient excuse.”
Johnny “JT” Thompson, the owner of the Peculiar Pelican. Photo via Facebook.
‘Please hold until I get approval from bank’
Nunes said she heard about the Peculiar Pelican from her late brother’s neighbors and felt comfortable with Thompson after meeting with him.
“My brother had things from all over the world,” she said. She described him as an avid collector.
She consigned 129 pieces from her brother’s estate in the Peculiar Pelican, whose corporate name is TLC Enterprise of Florida LLC.
After heading back to California, though, she soon realized something was not right. She asked Thompson over and over again for a list of the items she consigned with him. It wouldn’t be until October - three months after her contract expired - when she finally received a handwritten memo of her items, but without prices. He also sent her a check for $407 with a note saying “please hold until I get approval from bank.”
Nunes’ contract ended in July 2019 yet she didn’t receive an accounting of her items until October – the same time she received her check.
Now Nunes said he won't respond to her messages and she has no idea what's been sold, or how much he really owes her.
Nunes shared the check and note with SFGN.
Thompson admits to SFGN he asked her to not cash the check “until everything got back to normal.”
However, the check he sent to Nunes is dated Sept. 30, 2019 — two months before the first case of COVID-19 was identified in China, and six months before Broward County would shut down businesses because of the crisis.
Nunes eventually took the check to her bank, who informed her there were insufficient funds to cover it.
While she was in town handling her brother’s estate, she also needed to hire a moving company to haul the belongings over to the Peculiar Pelican, which cost her $750.
Thompson recommended Rest & Relaxation Movers, a small local moving company. SFGN contacted the owner who confirmed he moved Nunes’ items.
But he also said his company moved Thompson’s store to a new location last year.
“It was an extremely big move,” the owner said. He charged Thompson $5,000.
“He would give us checks and tell us not to cash them right away,” the owner continued.
Some of those checks eventually bounced and now the owner claims Thompson owes them $3,500.
The check that Donna Nunes received from the Peculiar Pelican, along with the note to hold the check. Photo courtesy of Donna Nunes.
‘He finally paid me when I threatened a lawsuit’
Jeff Fauer threatened to sue Thompson for not accounting for, or paying him, for the items his wife consigned with him.
His complaint took place around October 2019, months before the pandemic.
“I sent demand letters to a few of his addresses,” Fauer said. “He finally paid me when I threatened a lawsuit.”
George Bishopric is another angry consignor who feels cheated by Thompson. He said he’s probably owed $500.
He’s not sure, though, because “there’s no accounting whatsoever.”
“He suddenly moved. The business is dead. I’ve heard nothing from him. I have left phone messages. Sent emails. No response,” he said. “He has broken some of my objects without compensation and simply failed to provide any kind of record of his transactions.”
Bishopric said Thompson sold a few of his pieces early on in their business relationship which started in December 2018, and he was paid $500.
“I noticed other pieces disappear, and he was always going to mail me a check ‘soon,’” Bishopric said. “He never gave me any accounting of what was sold or for how much.”
At least three consignors went so far as to call the police and attempt to file incident reports. Two of them were told it’s a civil matter and there’s nothing they could do.
Monique Smith attempted to file an incident report Feb. 7 with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, a month before the pandemic forced businesses to close. The police deemed the matter a civil complaint and no report was taken. SFGN obtained a copy of the “call notes,” which does not list the details of the situation.
“A good portion of the things I brought to him were from my sister’s estate who ended up in a nursing home. She’s totally broke and completely on disability and this was supposed to be money for her welfare,” Smith told SFGN via Facebook Messenger.
“I don’t know what things sold for,” she said.
She estimates he owes her around $600.
Nunes, who consigned items from her brother’s estate, also filed a police complaint.
“I informed Donna [Nunes] of the process of filing a worthless check case with the State Attorney’s Office in Broward County,” the Fort Lauderdale Police report reads. “Donna was provided with FLPD’s case number for the report.”
There’s a record of Lisa Waytuk, another consignor, calling the police April 25. According to notes from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the police officer deemed it a “civil issue.”
According to Waytuk, Thompson sold her mink coat for $1,500 and since he offers his consignors a 50/50 split she’s owed $750. She said Thompson now tells her he won’t be able to give her any money until he reopens his business.
The mink coat belonging to Lisa Waytuk, who alleges that she is owed $750 after it was sold at the Peculiar Pelican. Photo courtesy of Lisa Waytuk.
‘I trusted him’
Thompson blamed much of his current woes on Ginger Berluti, who he believes is just trying to stir up trouble.
And Berluti readily admits she’s been a thorn in Thompson’s side ever since she felt he was ripping her off and evading her questions.
“I’ve had more issues with her than any consignor than I’ve had with anyone else,” Thompson said. “She’s done nothing but cause me problems. I’ve talked to her until I was blue in the face.”
Thompson claims Berluti is just a disgruntled consignor who attempted to use his store as a free storage facility. He said her contract expired 15 months ago and she has no legal right to any of the merchandise. But regardless, he said he has still tried to be a good person by offering to give her items back anyway.
Berluti disagrees and believes Thompson is a con man who has misled and ripped off numerous people in the community.
“I trusted him,” Berluti said.
Thompson sees it much differently.
“In my opinion, she abandoned her things,” he said. “That woman takes off, and you don’t see or hear from her for months and months, but she expects me to chase her down or call her.”
‘Put it in writing’
Thompson is right about a contract. Berluti showed SFGN the paperwork and it does state “it is the consignor's responsibility to track the 90-day expiration and Peculiar Pelican will not be liable for any item left in its possession beyond the contract period.”
Berluti’s contract ended April 5, 2019.
But Berluti says the contract doesn’t tell the whole story.
She says she dropped by his store on a regular basis and consigned additional items, never signing a new contract with new dates.
According to Russell Cormican, a local attorney, Berluti may have a point.
“What if you brought something in 80 days into the 90-day contract?” Cormican pondered. “I would argue the contract only covers the items at the time of execution. For any subsequent dealings between the two parties there would need to be a new contract.”
Without a new contract in place though, Cormican said their past dealings would dictate the agreement.
For instance, Cormican explained, if you get a haircut every month for $25, on the seventh month the barber could not decide to charge you $75 after the fact.
“The prior dealings of the parties establish the ground rules of the agreement,” Cormican said. “When there is no writing, or codification of the agreement, it’s difficult to establish what the meeting of the minds of the parties were at the time. So you would need to go to court to figure it out.”
Ultimately he said the moral of the story is “put it in writing.”
Bishopric shared a similar story.
“He had every opportunity to say to me ‘you realize that after three months you surrender the property.’ He never mentioned it. We talked about sales activity for months and he never brought that up,” said Bishopric, who said he would also pop into the store on a regular basis. “At some point, you would think that after a year, he might’ve mentioned that. If he didn’t, it was deliberate.”
In June 2020 Berluti attempted to visit the Peculiar Pelican and found it closed.
She eventually tracked Thompson down and that’s when he told her for the first time her contract had expired - 14 months after the fact. More so, she added he never followed the other parts of the contract like the monthly markdowns, or this section that states “at the end of the 90-day agreement, we will offer you the option of donating to local charities all the remaining unsold items or you may pick up your items within 7 days of the contract expiration.”
“He never offered to donate my items to a charity,” she said. “I never saw a reduced price on any of my items. He never followed his own rules. In fact he would tell me ‘I want to get more money for this.’ He never said ‘oh you have three days left on your contract,’ those words never left his lips.”
But according to Thompson, it wasn’t his responsibility to notify anyone, which is stated on the contracts.
‘They’re not naive at all’
In the consignment world, it’s typical to have a contract that stipulates any merchandise not sold within a specific time frame, usually 90 days, then becomes the property of the store. The consignor is allowed to take the items back within a limited time frame. If the items aren’t sold or the consignor doesn’t pick them up, a store will oftentimes donate the merchandise to a charity.
During interviews, Berluti and Thompson both mentioned Encore Interiors, a 25,000-square-foot consignment store in Fort Lauderdale, to bolster their arguments against one another.
Co-owner of Encore, Jeff Holly, said that once the 90 days are up, the merchandise is legally theirs. If they happen to sell on day 94, they would keep all of the money.
Holly also said that at his store, it’s up to the consignor to keep track of when their contract expires. With 9,500 consignors, it would be impossible for them to contact all of them. He also noted it’s the consignor’s responsibility to pick up their items.
Once the contract expires they donate the items. But Holly also said that if the consignor were to show up on day 98, they’d be happy to return the items if they were still in the store.
While the terms of the contract may be clear, Encore goes so far as to note on their website many people do not actually read the agreement.
“Our consignment agreements are very clear without any fine print. Unfortunately, many people do not read it and don’t realize that the terms of the agreement are very important. For example, there is an expiration to the agreement and any merchandise left beyond expiration becomes the property of the store,” their website reads.
Berluti said she’s never had an issue with Encore and has been consigning with them for years.
When SFGN asked Thompson if perhaps some of these disputes are happening because these individuals are just naive when it comes to the consignment industry, he pushed back.
“They’re not naive at all. They act like a bunch of spoiled children,” he said. “They expect me to keep it forever. How can I stay in business?”
‘Nobody wants the sofa’
In early March, Thompson was in the middle of moving his store from the Gateway Shopping Center on Sunrise Boulevard to a new location in Oakland Park. In an unlucky coincidence, his move took place the same week businesses were forced to shut down in Broward County.
He said his new landlord refused to work with him on the rent even though his new storefront was not even open yet.
“He wouldn’t modify the contract,” Thompson said.
With no revenue, Thompson said there was no way he could afford the $14,000 the new landlord was asking for, which included the first month of rent, last month and a security deposit. Then the moving company refused to finish the job because the pandemic had shut everything down. Thompson said he was forced to put his store’s merchandise in a $1,180-a-month warehouse until he’s able to find a new storefront.
“This has made things very difficult for me,” he said. “I am not trying to take anyone’s property. I’m trying to figure out what the next steps are.”
As for Berluti’s unsold merchandise, she’s been tracking it down in various locations. Some of her items were left in the old storefront that she found by accident when she arranged with Thompson to pick up her unsold sofa. Other items she found locked up in the new unopened storefront in Oakland Park when the owner of the building let her inside to collect a few of her pieces. This is despite the fact she said Thompson had told her all of her items were now packed up in the warehouse.
But the sofa mentioned above is a particular point of contention between Berluti and Thompson.
Berluti went to pick it up just as Faith Farm, a local thrift store and charity, was loading up all of the store’s leftover merchandise.
Both Thompson and Berluti agree Faith Farm did not want the piece of furniture because it was in such bad condition.
“It was in perfect shape when I brought it in to the store,” Berluti said.
“Nobody wants the sofa, it was so sun-faded,” he said. “I couldn’t even get $100 for it.”
Berluti questions why Thompson accepted the piece in the first place if it was allegedly in such bad shape. And on top of that, why he had chosen to keep it long after her contract had expired.
Berluti has no idea what Thompson may owe her. She said there were at least three pieces of hers he sold including a dresser and writing desk.
Early on in their business relationship, she said he told her another item had sold for $100.
“He asked me ‘do you want it now or just let it ride,’” she said. “I told him I had so much stuff there, we could just let it ride.”
The sofa that Berluti claims was in perfect shape when first brought to the Peculiar Pelican. Photo courtesy of Ginger Berluti.
‘My business, my livelihood’
Thompson said he’s more than willing to return merchandise to his consignors if they want it back. And in Lisa Waytuk’s case, he did return some of her items.
Besides the mink coat, Waytuk also consigned some jewelry, which she recently asked for back. Thompson and her ended up meeting in a parking lot a few weeks ago where he returned some of her items back to her.
“He didn’t give me my Pandora bracelet, he said it’s packed away in a box somewhere,” she said.
But in other cases, like Bishopric, at least some of his merchandise is gone for good. When Bishopric found out a lot of items had been donated to Faith Farm, he went to the thrift store to hopefully get them back.
“They actually remembered the pieces I described and said they were sold before they were even unloaded from the truck,” he said.
Meanwhile, Berluti was so upset with Thompson she went on to the Peculiar Pelican’s Facebook page and found other unhappy consignors who she has since connected with. She also went so far as to retain the services of a “hired bloodhound” to investigate the business owner.
“Well I found that he has a long record of evictions, going back to 2012,” said Andrea Shaw, the self-described bloodhound.
Berluti shared Shaw’s report with SFGN, which detailed his evictions, including May 2020 from his old location on Sunrise Boulevard where he’s accused of owing $21,670. In March 2019, the report shows that the Peculiar Pelican was evicted from another location within the same shopping center and owes $14,750. SFGN confirmed the cases through the Broward County Clerk’s website.
Meanwhile, Thompson doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong.
“So, believe me I have went above and beyond, working with some of these people and especially Ginger Berluti,” he said. “I’m upset about this. This is my business. My livelihood. This is my community. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
Thompson said he may file a cease and desist order against her.
“[Ginger] has gone online and [wrote] all these terrible things,” he said. “She’s already caused the damage, even though I’ve tried to do everything for her.”