ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - If you regularly drive through or walk along the streets of Atlanta, chances are you've been solicited by a group of people wearing red baseball caps.
They call themselves Americans Serving Americans. But some tell the FOX 5 I-Team so far the group has only served up disappointment. And the company now faces a Georgia securities investigation.
"A lot of empty promises," complained Dan Vallot, the owner of a budding flavored whiskey operation in Dallas, Texas.
ASA is not a charity. It's a for-profit business that promises to use the public's donated dollars to help entrepreneurs succeed. The group has blanketed Atlanta intersections and sidewalks, each member wearing identical white t-shirts, red "ASA" baseball caps and cameras clipped to the visor to feed content to the group's social media pages.
They're each paid $15 an hour with a message that's always the same, too. They're just here to help others.
"We want to create a way for not just entrepreneurs to be able to receive income for what it is they're doing, but we also want to create a way for people to find work," explained ASA founder David Ashby as he trained some of his staff along Peachtree Street one day.
Ashby created ASA in 2017. He's listed as the vice president of the company because he said God is the president. The 32-year-old dropped out of Georgia State to follow his own entrepreneurial dreams, eventually creating a company that relies largely on the public's goodwill to help fund other business hopefuls.
On ASA's various public social media sites, you can see enthusiastic members at rallies, working the streets, and Ashby himself positioned in front of patriotic fake backgrounds to deliver his message of hope and profits.
"We will raise tens of billions of dollars and then put it back into your hands, the hands of We The People," said Ashby while waving an American flag.
But it turns out some of "We the People" are a wee bit upset.
"There's definitely something that doesn't smell right, doesn't look right," explained entrepreneur Vallot.
Vallot started Cold Hammer Stills in his Fort Worth, Texas kitchen. Last year he heard about Americans Serving Americans offering money to budding entrepreneurs in exchange for an eventual slice of the company. So he drove to Atlanta and made his pitch to a group of ASA advisors called the Eagles.
"They had some big name people come out -- Evander Holyfield -- And I was like, ok. this really gives some credibility to what I'm seeing here," he remembered.
Holyfield is no longer a part of ASA. He had no comment.
Shortly after the pitch, vice president Ashby showed up in Texas to present Vallot with a giant cardboard check for $200,000 an event carried live on the ASA YouTube channel. Expecting that check to become real money, Dan said he quickly signed deals to immediately expand the flavored whiskey line to several other states.
But 12 months later, he's received only half of what was promised.
"It's one thing if someone gives you $100,000," he explained. "You can budget, you can do things. You know what's going to happen. But when they send $500 here, $1000 here, it makes it very difficult when it comes to business when you're obligated to things. I'm on the hook to all these people for money you promised that we would have."
Ashby took the blame. At least some of it.
"The intention was to give him the exact amount," he agreed. "We couldn't give him the exact amount."
So you broke your promise?
But Ashby said looking back, ASA should never have agreed to fund Vallot's company in the first place.
"He didn't know what to do with that money," Ashby countered.
Vallot said when he didn't get the $200,000 to fund his expansion, he had to cancel those deals and actually wound up in debt.
"They've forced us to taint our name with a lot of distributors all over the United States," Vallot said.
Ashby denied that he wasted $100,000 that people donated to Americans Serving Americans. But he could not explain how that money helped anyone.
"If you're an entrepreneur, ASA is going to be the place to come to raise the money that you need," Ashby insisted. He said ASA will soon launch its Mobile Serve App that will allow people to find a service they need close by. Some of that money he promises will go to help entrepreneurs.
We asked him about another entrepreneur ASA offered to help. John Lesmeister.
"Who's that?" Ashby asked, forgetting about one of the handful of entrepreneurs he promotes on his social media pages.
John Lesmeister is the inventor of the hair magnet, designed to easily remove hair from a bathtub drain. He's not happy with ASA either.
"The little advice I did get from them was poor advice," he explained.
Lesmeister took time off from his plumbers job in Chicago to pitch the hair magnet in front of those ASA Eagles in Atlanta -- sort of a helpful, friendly version of the hit television show Shark Tank that Ashby planned to pitch to Hollywood.
But the hair magnet would get no support.
"There was basically just people walking around with iPads on high heels bouncing around," he said describing the video shoot. "So I don't know how they got any good footage that way."
Ashby said no one promised Lesmeister any help.
"In his case, he didn't get a yes at our event," he said. "What he got at our event is we have to look at your company more..."
But shortly after the pitch, Ashby emailed the hair magnet inventor saying he would get an agreement to him, assuming "you will need at least $20,000 initially to accomplish getting your product manufactured the right way."
That never happened. Ashby says he later decided the investment wasn't worth it.
So if ASA is all about serving Americans, how many entrepreneurs have they really helped?
"We have helped... so far... a little under 10 entrepreneurs." Ashby said. Could he give us three who say nice things about him?
"Yeah, I can," he promised.
Two weeks later, he finally gave us one name. And that entrepreneur declined to say anything about ASA, good or bad, citing a "legal matter" with the company. Meanwhile, the Securities Division of the Secretary of State's office confirmed they are investigating complaints Ashby is selling securities without a license.
He insisted the investigation will find nothing wrong.
"We're not selling securities," he assured. "I can understand how to an outsider it could appear. We've got members... we raise money for entrepreneurs."
Raising money on the streets of Atlanta through patriotism and promises yet to be fulfilled.