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Their stuff missing, money gone. Here's why it's not a crime

Her mother died and she hired an estate sale business to help sell her belongings from the large 5-bedroom home. Little did she know, years later she still wouldn't see a dime.

SUWANEE, Ga. -- Police call it stealing, but won't arrest the woman accused. While the word itself sounds like a crime, in this case, they say, it's not.

This has left a handful of families on their own in their search for accountability. For nearly a year, 11Alive Investigator Rebecca Lindstrom has pushed for the truth.

Amy Cantando is the latest in the group of families trying to collect money owed from an estate sale business owner, Kathy Dove.

Cantando lives in North Carolina, so when her mother died in Georgia, she hired Dove’s company to handle her mom’s belongings.

“We actually sold the house a lot more quickly than we expected and one of the conditions was a fast closing,” explained Cantando.

Dove did hold a sale and she did clear the five-bedroom home in Suwanee of just about everything in it. But nearly 3 years later, Cantando says she has yet to be paid.

“I turned the keys over to Kathy and everything just disappeared,” said Cantando. "She emptied my mother’s entire home. Her jewelry, her clothes, furniture, everything.”

Dove did send a check for a portion of the proceeds, but it was written to a fictitious person and couldn’t be cashed. Cantando alerted Dove to the error but says that’s when all communication stopped.

Cantando filed a civil lawsuit in Barrow County, which Dove filed papers to fight. But the day they were to present their cases in court, Dove didn’t show up. A judge ruled in Cantando’s favor, ordering Dove to pay more than $14,000. Even with the judgment, Cantando hasn’t seen a dime and until the matter is resolved, she can’t close out her mom’s estate, adding even more attorney and court costs.

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Driving down from North Carolina with her family, Cantando came prepared for court. Another victim who claimed Dove refused to pay her after she hired the company for an estate sale came to court as a witness for Cantando.

Another witness who showed up had intimate knowledge of not only Dove and her company, but also the exact items that were in the home. Melanie Wright was an employee of Dove's and handled the estate of Cantando's mother.

We tried to talk with Dove after hearing a similar story from Rebecca Charles. She hired Dove for an estate sale to help pay for her mom’s medical care.

“There have been nights I did not sleep because, this is 40 years of my mother’s stuff,” said Charles, sitting in a room with what’s left of her mother’s belongings.

Earlier this year, Dove did open an antique store in Auburn, where inside, families say they found her selling their stuff without permission. Any items they had agreed to let her use for consignment, were placed on an inventory list. These items were not on that list. Regardless, they say Dove has never paid them for either.

“She shouldn't have that. She didn’t claim it was sold, she didn’t take it for consignment. It just vanished. There were a lot of things that just… my mom’s entire dining room set, not on the sales log, not on consignment. What happened?” asks Cantando.

While the families cannot prove the items in her store are the same, they do look awfully familiar when you compare pictures of the items in the house before the estate sale, pictures used to advertise the estate sale and then pictures 11Alive took while inside her store.

“That rug was in her formal sitting room when you came into the house,” said Cantando, flipping through the pictures of what Lindstrom found.

Lindstrom also found similar matches to a picture that once hung in a bedroom at her mother’s house and a bowl of wooden apples. There are also antique lights, a small table and a dining room hutch that match other estate sale items.

“It’s frustrating law enforcement knows about this and people know about this and yet things just sit in her store and people can buy this and she gets the money,” said Cantando.

Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith, where Dove lives and her antique store is located, says he empathizes with families who feel wronged, but stresses it’s a civil matter. He says Dove’s offense simply boil down to breach of contract. That means to get a criminal charge against her, the victims must prove to a judge Dove intended to take their money and belongings before the sales ever began.

He admits, it’s a tough case to make, especially when they don’t have police resources to help them investigate. Making it even tougher, the judge can only rule on what happened in their county. Dove’s alleged victims are scattered throughout the metro, in Gwinnett, Oconee, Dawson and Greene counties.

They can, like Cantando, file a civil lawsuit and demand money owed. But for that, they have to go to the county where her business is located. That’s where, so far, Sheriff Smith has come in. Smith says until Dove opened her store, she was tough to serve court papers.

“Extremely difficult. My deputies, and one of them even stated, I could drive to her house blind folded.”

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One family has been able to get a FIFA, a court order giving law enforcement authority to seize Dove’s property as payment. But again, it’s up to the victim to pay law enforcement to serve it.

11Alive was at her store when one of the FIFA’s was served. The amount on this case owed is $6,769. We watched as the deputy asked Dove if she had any money or property she could use to pay the bill. When she said no, the conversation was over, and the deputy left.

“If they own it free and clear, they have to agree to give it to you. So that’s another kick, kick you while you’re down thing. They have to agree to give it to you,” explains Sheriff Smith.

Smith did arrest Dove in January during a traffic stop when he learned there was a warrant for her arrest in Gwinnett on deposit account fraud. She’s accused of writing two bad checks to pay a family the proceeds of their sale. She appeared in court in September to plead not guilty.

Families said it makes no sense that ‘attempting to pay’ with a bad check is a crime, but not even trying to pay, is not.

Lindstrom has tried several times to talk with Dove about the claims, but Dove has chosen not to talk, except to ask Lindstrom to get off of her property.