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How food truck dreams went awry — details of 8 more cases

Dissatisfied customers of Gary Koppelman’s businesses, USA Mobile and Industrial Food Truck, have complained of inadequate craftsmanship, excessive delays, and fraud.

Numerous defects were evident in the pizza truck that the Division Restaurant Group in New Rochelle, N.Y., had paid Industrial Food Truck $120,000 to construct in 2019.
Numerous defects were evident in the pizza truck that the Division Restaurant Group in New Rochelle, N.Y., had paid Industrial Food Truck $120,000 to construct in 2019.Read moreCourtesy Nicholas Mancini

Over the last seven years, a trail of unhappy customers have accused Gary Koppelman’s two food truck fabrication businesses, USA Mobile and Industrial Food Truck, of inadequate craftsmanship, excessive delays and fraud, with some never receiving trucks that cost more than $100,000.

In a companion article, The Inquirer details Koppelman’s career and a series of complaints against his business practices. Here are stories involving several other dissatisfied customers, drawn from court documents and interviews with Koppelman’s customers, lawyers and Koppelman himself. He declined to speak at length, but did comment briefly on some subjects.

The Enterprise Center, a nonprofit that serves as an incubator hub for small businesses, hired Industrial Food Truck to customize a truck to expand its culinary program. The center was told by Koppelman that it was “nearly complete” by July 2019, when it began publicizing its new program — but the truck was still inoperable, said an Enterprise Center spokesperson. After a year of more delays and too little work, the center towed its truck away unfinished from IFT in July 2020, the spokesman said.

» READ MORE: Dreams are stalled as a Philadelphia food truck builder faces multiple allegations of fraud

Nicholas Mancini, director of the Division Restaurant Group in New Rochelle, N.Y., which owns five Westchester County restaurants and serves 26 Catholic high schools, says he paid Industrial Food Truck $120,000 for a food truck. When the company took possession of the truck in September 2019 and drove it back to New York, neither the brakes, gas gauge or steering worked properly, according to Nick Scarapoli, a New York mechanic who inspected the truck and performed repairs. Mancini says promised equipment they’d paid for was not installed, and that a malfunctioning lock allowed the vending window to fly open and be sheared off by a telephone pole. Poor suspension also allowed the truck to scrape the ground near propane tanks that were housed in bent sheet metal frames attached with standard screws that were inadequately secured, says Scarapoli: “They were just flopping around in the breeze ... totally unsafe.”

Thomas and Julie Pauly of the Able Baker in Maplewood, Essex County, N.J., gave Industrial Food Truck a deposit of $27,900 on April 2019 to customize a food truck the Paulys already owned, with delivery promised within two months. The Paulys filed suit against Koppelman in June 2020, contending that not only had IFT failed to complete the truck and declined to offer a refund, but that Koppelman also refused to return the Paulys’ truck along with $19,000 of their equipment. Koppelman denied all charges in his reply to the complaint. The Paulys finally received their unfinished truck in June after agreeing to drop their suit, two years after filing it. Koppelman kept their money.

Savoeun “Anda” Son paid Koppelman’s Industrial Food Truck $40,000 in January 2020 to build a food truck for her specialty egg roll business, Sci-Food-Crown, expecting that it would be completed by the end of that month. After IFT missed multiple promised deadlines, Son, the sister of an investor in Koppelman’s company, sued Industrial Food Truck in May 2020 for $50,000. Koppelman said in an interview that all her truck’s work had been completed except for the connection of gas lines. He failed to reply officially to her suit and Son was awarded a default judgment in July 2020. A court arbitration to determine damages is still expected in this active case, according to Son’s lawyer.

David Truskinoff of La Chocolatera paid Koppelman $22,301 in 2017 and 2018 for work on an electric hot chocolate truck plus $1,800 for commissary kitchen rental, but the work was never completed after 10 months. Truskinoff eventually finished the truck with another manufacturer, but pursued legal action against Koppelman, representing himself in court successfully, at first, as the judge ordered Koppelman to pay $9,617 in December 2018. However, Koppelman, who denied all charges, immediately appealed the decision and the delay convinced Truskinoff to drop the case.

MOGO Korean Fusion Tacos in Asbury Park contracted with International Food Truck in February 2017 to build a customized truck for $64,925. MOGO sued in May 2018 for fraud and breach of contract, among other charges. The suit alleges that when the truck was delivered over a month late, the generator and heating system were improperly installed, and there were so many deficiencies it was unfit for use, failing its inspection due to lack of hot water and non-functional kitchen equipment. A subsequent inspection showed the onetime linen truck was not constructed with the capability to carry enough weight to legally function with the equipment needed for a food truck. In a court reply, Koppelman denied the charges. A settlement was reached, in which Koppelman was to resell the truck and give MOGO $50,000. Koppelman failed to fulfill that commitment and attorneys are now trying to collect a May 2020 court judgment against Koppelman and IFT for $65,925.

Melissa Cauley of West Springfield, Mass., paid $53,300 to Koppelman’s USA Mobile in 2015 for a food truck that was never completed or delivered. Cauley sued for breach of contract in September of that year, and judgment was handed down against Koppelman, demanding USA Mobile pay Cauley $71,300 for the truck plus lost income. He has not paid, according to Cauley’s attorney. In a 2019 deposition, Koppelman admitted he never returned Cauley’s deposit, though he said she tried back out of her contract. He then took $30,000 from another customer for the same truck that also was never delivered or refunded after the 2016 fire at USA Mobile.

Michael Schulson of the Schulson Collective says he purchased a used food truck for Independence Beer Garden from USA Mobile in 2014 for $34,259. However, the truck was defective, Schulson said, and failed three inspections due to improper heating and cooling systems. It also needed $7,249 worth of repairs three weeks after it left USA Mobile, according to a receipt by an independent mechanic, who said the truck did not have working gauges or headlights and a drive shaft needed to be completely rebuilt. “I drove it down Delaware Avenue and it kept stalling out,” said Schulson. ”It’s literally smoking. I was scared to death I was going to die.”