Last winter, when fliers began appearing in Williamsburg touting a soon-to-open gym called Core Fitness, many locals snatched up the bargain memberships and looked forward to spinning, yoga, and sunless tanning. But since then, the man behind the ads, Johnny Suarez, has seemingly disappeared. And the hipsters who signed up for kickboxing are beginning to think they’ve been sucker-punched.
“At the end of June, they said it would open in July, and at the end of July, they said it would open in August,” says Jennifer, who asked to be identified only by first name. She had written a $157 check for a full year’s membership back in April. When the opening date came and went, she began calling the number on her contract, but got no answer. Now a call to that number reaches a woman’s voice mail: “Hey, what’s up? This is Pam!”
Jennifer is one of more than 100 people who believe they’ve been scammed by Suarez. Many have gone to the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general, and dozens have been exchanging e-mails about the case. (They have Suarez himself to thank for putting them in touch: He sent a mass e-mail to new members but forgot to use blind CC.) According to the attorney general’s office, which has gotten 23 complaints, such cases are not uncommon, with would-be clubs having failed to materialize in the Bronx and Westchester.
Lourdes Santiago fears Suarez might try to steal her identity: “He’s got all of my personal information!” she says. “Social Security number, bank-account number, address.” She started an investigation of her own that led her to Exodus, a legitimate gym that Suarez started with Juan Rivera. Rivera reports that his former partner’s nickname was “Starter Check John,” for allegedly opening multiple bank accounts.
The possibility remains that Suarez just got in over his head with the venture (not to be confused with Core Fitness in Manhattan, whose owners are none too pleased) and had no intention of duping anyone. But that’s little consolation to the angry hipsters out $157. A few weeks ago, Jennifer visited the supposed site of the gym, on North 6th Street, and saw that a clothing store had opened there. “I feel like I should run around the store,” she says. “At least I’d be getting my money’s worth.”