BROOKVILLE, Ind. — For a time, Rodney Grubbs was something of a celebrity in the world of pickleball.
At tournaments around the country, Grubbs has been both a competitor and a merchant. He’d play and set up a booth selling game equipment and his own line of branded apparel, Pickleball Rocks.
The business made an impression on Sharon Guingrich, “Hey, this is really cool. They’ve got a cool name. The brand is really interesting. They always had new products coming out.”
Guingrich, who lives in Columbus, had become a pickleball devotee. She played the game. She taught the game. She spent weekends traveling to tournaments, crossing paths with Grubbs on multiple occasions.
And Grubbs was a charming, talkative guy.
The Sales Pitch
“I call him Mr. Congeniality. He’s friendly with everyone. Always says, ‘Hello. How you doing?’ And he had the reputation of being a good guy.”,” recalled Guingrich.
Grubbs also had the cache of being named an ambassador by USA Pickleball. Because of his early advocacy of the game, some thought Grubbs deserved to be in the Pickleball Hall of Fame.
So, it was flattering to Guingrich when Grubbs approached her with an opportunity.
“He asked me if I was interested in investing in the company,” said Guingrich.
“He said, ‘I had someone else who needs their money back to buy a house and I have a slot open.”
She thought about the offer but didn’t have the money to invest. But later, after selling her home, Guingrich sought out Grubbs asking whether he was still looking for an investor.
Closing the Deal
The two met. Grubbs leafed through a three-ring binder, walking Guingrich through his pickleball business plan.
Guingrich said Grubbs stressed this was a limited investment opportunity, and if she got in, he wanted her to keep quiet that she had landed one of his slots.
Initially, Guingrich invested $25,000. The transaction was a simple promissory note. The return on the investment, 12% interest and she had the option of rolling over the amount to compound the earnings. Guingrich would eventually expand her investment in Grubbs business to $75,000.
She was happy with her stake in Pickleball Rocks, until she saw a social media post.
Teri and Scott Siewert of White Springs, Florida, were unhappy investors in Grubbs’ business.
On New Years Day 2024, they posted on Facebook that they had been in contact with “more than 70” Pickleball Rocks investors. The Siewerts added, “We now know that Grubbs has defaulted on dozens of notes given to people across the country“ and that there were already two court judgments against him for millions of dollars.
To confirm the information for herself, Guingrich jumped online and quickly found the court cases. Staring at the documents she thought, “It’s unbelievable that he’s not paying people back.”
Justin Masterson is a former Major League Baseball pitcher playing for Cleveland and Boston. According to court records, Masterson and his wife, Meryl, in 2014 and 2015 made fourteen separate investments in Grubbs’ “purported real estate business”.
Mastersons were provided a spreadsheet showing their investment (including interest) was $4.2 million. Grubbs never responded to the court case and in November 2023 a default judgment was ordered. With continued interest, penalties, and legal fees added, the total is just shy of $5 million.
There were two more default judgments in January of this year. A judge in Franklin County found Grubbs owed Debbie and Larry Peck of North Carolina $1.7 million. Another Franklin County judge ordered Grubbs to pay Florida resident Philip Piche $3.9 million.
Grubbs Goes Quiet
When Guingrich was satisfied the social media accusations about Grubb were true, she immediately requested the money back.
“I never got a response,” said Guingrich.
She is not confident she will ever see her $75,000 again.
“That’s not a small amount of money,” noted Guingrich. “It was part of my retirement plan.”
It made her mad enough to sue.
It turns out, Guingrich is hardly alone, said Indianapolis attorney Matthew Foster, “I currently have about 80 clients who have signed up for me to represent them against (Grubbs). I’ve talked to another 40 or 50.”
Foster said the stories of his clients are similar. Grubbs approached each one with a limited opportunity for investment, urged them not to talk about it with others, and ultimately didn’t pay them back.
“Everyone I’ve talked to says he’s got an odd charm that is very believable. So, you would never think that Rodney Grubbs would take money from you,” explained Foster.
Instead of filing individual lawsuits against Grubbs for all of his clients, Foster has filed in federal court seeking to force Grubbs into bankruptcy.
Foster notes, “It’s a rare thing, but it’s very powerful thing and in this case, it really fits what we have here.”
Dozens of Foster clients have agreed to pursue a Chapter 7 forced bankruptcy in hopes of creating the largest possible pool of money to pay back people who invested with Grubbs.
“It’s been difficult for my clients, but you have to do something to have a chance of getting something,” said Foster.
Grubbs on the Record
FOX59/CBS4 traveled to Grubbs’ hometown of Brookville in hopes of speaking with him about his business and people who claim he owes them money.
There was no answer at his home. At his retail Pickleball Rocks store on Main Street, we were told he was not around. But we left a business card and later that evening Grubbs sent a text.
Part of it reads, “What I will say is that there is a lot of information circulating right now and I am very anxious to get my whole story out there. But for all concerned it has to be done through the right legal channels.”
Grubbs added he’d be happy to share his story “in a few weeks.”
It appears Grubbs is yet to hire an attorney to fend off bankruptcy. Grubbs himself authored the response to the bankruptcy petition. In it, there are a number of notable disclosures.
He estimates “(there) are no less than 250 outstanding (creditors)” who potentially could benefit from a sale of his assets. The only assets he listed are “11 single low-income family rental properties” that he estimates are valued at $800,000 and his Pickleball Rock business plus inventory valued at $150,000.
The remainder of Grubbs’ filing amounts to a sales pitch. Instead of the liquidation of a Chapter 7 proceeding, the case should be moved to a Chapter 11 business reorganization allowing Grubbs to stay in business with the purpose of generating more money for creditors.
Grubbs points out the growth of Pickleball and the economic opportunities of potential sales to new players.
He writes, “With a good management team, Pickleball Rocks can and will continue to grow.”
Grubbs also dismisses any notion that his business’ reputation has been irreparably harmed: “…there are millions of new players coming into the sport now and in the future. The vast majority of pickleball players… do not use social media and will not be impacted by the current news.”
Cease and Desist
The Indiana Secretary of State’s office has ordered Grubbs not to take on any more investors. A cease-and-desist order was filed on Jan. 12. The document states it appears Grubbs has committed securities fraud through his “sale of unregistered and nonempty securities.”
A spokesperson for the Secretary of State also tells FOX59/CBS4 that Grubbs is not a registered dealer.