When you think about the concept of Storage Wars – people bidding to buy mostly unseen contents of old storage lockers abandoned by their owners – you would think that it would be an idea that could never work. Who wants to watch such a seemingly mundane transaction? Well, as it turns out, millions of viewers!
In fact, since its debut on A&E in 2010, it became the channel’s top-rated and non-scripted series, with an average of 2.4 million viewers. Not only was Storage Wars a hit, it went on to inspire similar series and an entire subgenre of reality storage locker/auction shows like Storage Hunters, Container Wars, Baggage Battles, and Auction Hunters. As the OG of storage/auction reality TV, Storage Wars has some tricks up their sleeve, so to speak.
This is the behind the scenes of the popular series…
You already know that the “reality” of reality TV is a relative term. The fact that Storage Wars isn’t so “real” is almost a given at this point. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What exactly is fake – and where the drama lies – is what makes it all the more interesting.
That said, cast member Dave Hester approached the show’s producers with concerns over the series’ authenticity more than once. In fact, he filed a lawsuit against A&E and Original Productions over those very concerns back in 2012. What was he concerned about? Well, he started getting suspicious about the kinds of things the producers did whenever he would win a bid…
It’s Known as “Salting”
When Hester would place and win a bid, the producers would then draw his attention to certain boxes, or they would unload the storage unit so he could “discover” certain items. There was one time when he “found” a pile of old newspapers that announced Elvis Presley’s death.
There was another time when Hester found a car – a BMW mini – underneath a pile of trash. Hester claimed that the producers were planting such valuable goods in the storage units ahead of time. Apparently, the term for such acts is “salting.” It’s what producers do to make the show more interesting. That alone is scandalous enough, but Hester’s lawsuit didn’t stop there.
A Pandora’s Box
Hester’s lawsuit happened to expose even more scandalous activities on the show. On top of the “salting” of the units, Hester also claimed that the show paid for storage units on behalf of “weaker cast members who lack both the skill and financial wherewithal to place winning bids.”
He alleged that Storage Wars made it seem as though bidders were participating in auctions, when in reality, “no auction is taking place.” What might be the most scandalous accusation in the lawsuit was Hester’s claim that the show’s producers had paid for “the plastic surgery that one of the female cast members underwent in order to create more ‘sex appeal’ for the show.”
Yuuup! That’s the Claim
There was one more thing that Hester’s lawsuit revealed about the show regarding his compensation package. He would have gone into his fourth season had he not been fired for raising his concerns, as his lawsuit alleges. Hester claimed that if he yells “Yuuup!” on TV for another year, it would earn him “$25,000 per episode, with a guaranteed minimum of 26 episodes.”
It would also earn him “a non-accountable expense account of $124,500” and a “$25,000 signing bonus.” In total, that adds up to $799,500 for him to star on one season of a show that’s all about buying abandoned storage units. That’s the price to pay to clear one’s moral conscience, apparently.
A&E Was Left Unscathed
In the end, A&E didn’t deny Dave Hester’s accusations or try to declare the sanctity and truth of reality TV. Instead, the network’s representatives kind of admitted to staging practices – “salting” – by claiming that whatever actions Storage Wars producers held were perfectly legal.
In the legal documents relating to the Hester lawsuit, A&E cited First Amendment protections. The case also mentioned that only game shows must be completely authentic, and since Storage Wars isn’t strictly speaking a game show, the producers can basically do as they please. A&E went so far as to claim that the lawsuit was driven by spite, and he was ordered to pay the network’s legal fees.
This Is TV, People
A judge then ruled that Hester could proceed with his wrongful termination suit. In the end, the former cast member eventually returned to Storage Wars after brokering a settlement with A&E. Unfortunately, the terms and details were never publicly disclosed. We can assume that a hefty paycheck was involved.
The network clearly stated that they have no problem admitting to taking liberties with the true nature of the storage unit auctions. In A&E’s motion to strike the lawsuit, they admit that the show “has captured the public’s interest by combining elements of competition and business strategy with the mystery of discovering what surprises may be found in an abandoned storage unit.” In other words: “This is TV, people.”
To Keep Things Interesting
A&E’s message was echoed by the show’s creator Thom Beers, who told a discussion panel that not only do they script nearly 50% of what the characters say, they even consolidate parts from several auctions in a single locker just to keep things interesting.
To be fair, how many viewers would stay glued to their television sets watching locker after locker get bid on and then opened to find nothing but crappy, old furniture and items no one would ever pay for? The truth is, if you’re looking for real TV, then don’t watch reality shows.
Yuuup! Another (Rather Hilarious) Lawsuit
Dave Hester seems to be a fan of court, seeing that he also got into a legal battle with musician Trey Songz over the use of the catch phrase “Yuuup!” The New York Post reported that both Hester and Songz used the phrase in speech as well as on merchandise over the years.
Reportedly, Hester’s lawsuit sought “a court order barring Songz from ‘interfering’ with his use” of the phrase. The suit claimed that Songz’s version “resembles an animal-like or non-human squeal which begins with a distinct ‘yeeee’ sound before finishing with a squeal-like ‘uuuup’ sound.” After a very probable eye roll from the judge, Hester and Songz eventually settled privately.
Schulz’s Dark Past
Veteran bidder Jarrod Schulz never fully explained his criminal past, although he vaguely mentioned it a few times on the show. Well, he doesn’t really need to with the Internet and all. According to Starcasm, in 2012, Schulz was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance, as well as narcotics transportation and a DUI in 1997.
In 1999, he was arrested again for virtually the same things, only this time he violated parole, which was added to his charges. As a result, Schulz served 16 months in state prison.
A Happy Ending of Sorts
His time on Storage Wars was somewhat of a happy ending for the former criminal. According to The Orange County Register, Schulz got his first taste of storage auctions with his aunt, who used to manage her own public storage facility. At the time, Schulz was trying to start a career in the mortgage business.
Over time, he and his longtime girlfriend Brandi Passante went on to open up their own second-hand shop called Now and Then. They ended up on Storage Wars after an auction in Harbor City, California, where he met the producers in the pre-production phase of Storage Wars.
A Sad Story
Mark Balelo (a.k.a. “Rico Suavé”) is the auction house proprietor and game store owner who popped up in the second, third, and fourth seasons of Storage Wars. He came in as a bidder and a buyer, who carried with him a large stack of cash should he wind up winning.
The colorful character had some personal troubles off-screen. In 2012, Radar Online reported that three years prior, he had pled guilty to a felony count of selling and/or transporting a controlled substance. He got three years’ probation and was sent to jail in late 2011 after violating his parole by getting caught with a gun that he took from a storage locker he purchased.
A Promising Beginning
As for Dan and Laura Dotson, the couple has stayed solid all these years thanks to their relationship’s promising beginning. “I found the right man because I am very high-energy,” Laura once told The Huffington Post. She met Dan in 1996, and when she “saw him auctioneering all over the place, I thought, ‘I’m going to marry that man!’”
Dan was an experienced auctioneer who learned the tricks of the trade at age 11 from his grandfather. According to Laura, they fell in love and married almost immediately. Four months later, they were expecting their first child. “We work well together,” she added. “He’s taught me how to auction, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.”
More on their personal story further down…
A Controversial “Gag Gift”
After the actor Jesse James confessed to cheating on his wife Sandra Bullock, the celebrity bad boy made several media appearances explaining his public meltdown. There was one particular incident in which a photo of him wearing a German SS officer’s hat and doing a “Sieg Heil” salute was leaked online.
James later explained in multiple interviews that the whole thing was meant to be a joke (yeah, haha) and that the hat was actually a “gag gift” given to him by his very own “Jewish godfather,” Barry Weiss. In his autobiography, American Outlaw, James admitted that he begged Weiss for support in the aftermath of the scandal, but Weiss refused. “Can’t do it,” Weiss told him. “I got a show on A&E this fall. I can’t afford to get mixed up in all this crap. Sorry, Jess. You’re on your own, kiddo.”
The Modern Version of a Child’s Dream
The whole point of Storage Wars is to give its viewers a thrill as they watch others do something pretty much everyone wanted to do when they were a little kid: find a buried treasure. Finding valuable items in abandoned storage lockers in California is basically the modern, adult equivalent of finding an old treasure chest full of gold.
It would be pretty unlikely to find an actual pirate’s treasure in a storage container. It would be almost as astonishing that people associated with Storage Wars would overlook it. But that’s what happened in 2011.
In 2011, as TMZ reported, a storage unit auctioned off by famed couple Dan and Laura Dotson unknowingly contained around $500,000 worth of Spanish gold. The treasure was said to date back to “anywhere between the 16th and 19th century.”
The loot was discovered after the storage unit had already been auctioned off. It was located inside an actual pirate’s chest that was considered to be “at least 200 years old.” If that wasn’t insane enough, the report indicated that the winning bidder struck gold (pun intended), seeing that he only paid a little over $1,000 for the unit.
Barry Weiss left Storage Wars in 2013 and started his own short-lived spinoff called Barry’d Treasure. But before he ever got involved with auction television, he spent 30 years working in the wholesale produce business. He provided produce for cruise ships, restaurants, and hotels.
“I’ve always been collecting antiques on the side,” he said, “so that helped fund my passion for collecting weird stuff.” Weiss was always very calm compared to his co-bidders. After all, he was in it for the fun since he had little to no financial stake in the matter.
His “Green Card”
A lot of his calm and collected demeanor has to do with his financial independence, of course, but the man has also offered another explanation for being so laid back. In an interview with Weiss, Wisconsin’s Big Cheese asked him about his medical marijuana card.
The man responded, “Oh god, honestly, uh, it’s been about eight years ago. I’m one of the first in this state to get it, but you know I got a bad back, and I’ve gotta tend to it.” Well, that surely explains it. But they wouldn’t really mention that on reality TV. Not yet, at least.
A Baffling and Tragic Incident
The short-lived spinoff of Storage Wars was barely off the ground when tragedy struck one of its stars. At a viewing party for the spinoff that had only premiered days prior, cast member Kevin Pew’s son, Hashim, shot and killed a female family friend by the name of Janel Hamilton.
It was seemingly for no reason, which is why everyone was baffled. According to CBS Local 10 News, Hashim Pew shot Hamilton with a stolen .45 caliber handgun without warning. He then shot her again while she was on the floor. Hashim was tackled by his father and brother, who restrained him until the cops arrived.
An Unexplained Motive
According to police reports, Hashim said, “She’s dead as (expletive) dog,” as he was being held back by his family members. Hashim was charged with first-degree murder, yet he was later found “incompetent to stand trial.”
He was “remanded into the custody of the Department of Children and Families for treatment in order to ‘attain competence to proceed.'” The status of the murder trial is unclear, even to this day. Storage Wars: Miami never returned for its second season, and whether that decision was related to the murder is also unclear.
Brandon Sheets Fires Back on Twitter
Most of Season One’s group remains intact, with the exceptions of Weiss (who left after four seasons) and buyer Brandon “The Sidebet” Sheets. Initially, Sheets merely tagged along with his dad Darrell for the ride. However, he started bidding against his kin, and then – poof – he was gone.
In 2016, Sheets announced on Twitter that he had been laid off, saying, “I am no longer affiliated with Storage Wars, Darrell will still be in new episodes, but I have been told I am no longer on the show (budget).” But he had some hard feelings…
He Showed Them (Kind Of)
Sheets continued to fire back at Storage Wars via Twitter after first explaining why he would no longer be seen on the show. In a tweetstorm, Sheets professed that he actually had “bigger plans for myself than to be degraded by a show and people who simply do not care about others and their quality of life.”
He went on to indicate that “some people just didn’t appreciate what I brought to the table.” Sheets ended up on his feet and apparently now works in real estate in Arizona. So, I guess he showed them!
The Gambler’s Pay Cut
As for his dad, Darrell Sheets, he was one of the few original cast members who managed to stick around for all 12 seasons. Sheets, a.k.a. the the “Gambler,” hasn’t exactly received absolute job security and a peaceful working relationship with A&E. In 2015, A&E threatened to cut his per-episode pay from $30,000 to $15,000.
To add insult to injury, producers told him they only wanted him in four episodes out of the next season’s 26 total episodes. Sheets assumed the network was phasing him out to replace him with younger talent who would be glad to work for less money. In the end, however, Sheets stayed put.
Hester vs. Dotson
A&E doesn’t think Storage Wars fits the legal definition of a game show, but there’s definitely a gaming element to it. According to TMZ, in June of 2015, Storage Wars taped an installment in Palm Springs, and evidently, auctioneer Dan Dotson missed a bid from Dave Hester.
Producers told Hester to let Dotson know of his mistake (you know, creating drama). Dotson, though, didn’t pay any mind, and Hester didn’t let the issue rest, even though the producers asked him to let it be. Eventually, Dotson and Hester got into a verbal brawl.
You Asked for Drama
Hester punched Dotson, and a full-on fight ensued between the two grown men. That’s when Laura Dotson intervened and literally jumped on Hester’s back. His reaction was to throw the woman off of his back and onto the ground.
Laura then went on a curse-laden tirade, calling Hester a “son of a b**** m***********” among many other things. Of course, production came to a halt, and Hester got kicked off the set. He was taken to a hospital for a tetanus shot because Laura scratched him so severely that he drew blood. There’s some drama for you.
Welcome to the Show, Wears
Veteran auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson welcomed another tradesperson into their world in Season 10 with Emily Wears. Born into an auctioneering family, Wears began working for her father’s company in Iowa when she was 10 years old and started her formal training at 17.
She grew competitive and eventually became the first woman to win major auctioneering contests in both Colorado and Wyoming. Storage Wars isn’t her first experience with reality TV, though. In 2012, she was on the Thom Beers-produced auction show called Money Barn, and she even auditioned for the 15th season of American Idol back in 2016. But all three judges turned her down.
Taking Revenge on Brandi Passante
In 2010, a man named Hunter Moore launched a dirty website called Is Anyone Up? The site is thankfully now defunct, but it happened to popularize the concept of “revenge porn” (where users upload naked images and/or videos of their ex partners in an attempt to publicly humiliate them).
Moore and his accomplice Charles Evens were sentenced to prison, but before that, our dear Brandi Passante fell victim to their criminal acts. According to The Wrap, Moore “distributed a video falsely claiming to feature [Passante] over the internet,” and “published bogus pornographic pictures of her.” Passante sued for $2.5 million as well as $5,250 in statutory damages. But the judge reduced her monetary award to $750 and required Moore to remove the content.
The $7.5 Million Scandal
Dan Dotson has been something of a legend in the auctioneering world over the last few decades. He has been a big part of the hit series since day one. Throughout the years, he’s opened storage units and auctioned off some amazing finds.
However, he stumbled upon something truly remarkable – something that could easily have come straight out of a gangster film. While attending the “Cars, Stars and Rock N’ Roll” charity event in Indio, California, Dotson heard a remarkable story. And it all started at a charity event.
It Started With a Charity Event
The Storage Wars host noticed a woman was staring at him from the other end of the room. Eventually, she approached him and told him something that left him speechless. Dotson posted a video on Twitter, basically retelling the story that the woman told him at the charity event.
He said in the video: “An older Asian woman at the table next to me kept looking at me like she wanted to tell me something.” “[She said that] ‘My husband works for a guy, and he bought a unit from you for $500, and it had a safe in it.’”
Quite a Remarkable Story
In order to really understand the significance of the whole story, you need to know a little bit about the man behind it. And we’ll start by saying that Dotson isn’t your average Joe. For about 50 years, he has been deeply involved in the auctioneering industry.
He’s been running American Auctioneers with his wife, Laura. Auctioneering seems to be Dotson’s true calling. Dotson used to watch his grandfather work as a farm auctioneer in the ‘70s and developed a passion for the profession at an early age. When he was only 11, his grandfather taught him the art of auctioneering over the summers. He became so immersed in auction culture that he even compromised his own education, selling furniture for auctioneer Merl Bernard instead.
Starting an Empire
While the 1970s was dedicated to developing a passion for auctioneering, the 1980s was the decade when he mastered the art of it. In 1983, Dotson started his very own auctioneering company and launched American Auctioneers. His net worth is $4.5 million. Compare that to the average auctioneer who earns about $46,000 per year.
And Dotson’s reputation as TV’s most famous auctioneer earns him around $300,000 per year. But aside from that, Dotson also ran auction houses, selling all kinds of things like porcelain dolls to furniture. American Auctioneers has stayed true to its vision ever since its inception.
Enter Laura Dotson
Dan and Laura Dotson have always been very close, but they weren’t always business partners. Before meeting Dan, Laura was running restaurants. She loves both food and people. Laura wanted to open a restaurant that would make the best pizza in town.
In 1993, when she was starting the process, she went looking for pizza-making equipment. And fate would have it that while shopping for pizza equipment, the entrepreneur met fellow business starter, Dan Dotson. Laura met Dan when he was selling a restaurant and all its contents. She thought that Dan was just trying to get her attention to sell things to her, but Dan claims that he was actually flirting with her.
She Turned Him Into a Star
Dan wasn’t famous until about a decade ago. It was only when Laura realized how charismatic the auctioneer was that she told him to record his antics on video. So Dan set up a YouTube channel and began posting videos of himself.
Then, one day, TV producer Thom Beers showed up at one of Dan’s auctions, and the rest is history. It was the start of a real journey. But then the two had to deal with a challenging moment in 2014. One early morning, Dan woke up asking “weird questions” while asleep. When he woke up a few hours later, Dan fell to the ground, and he was rushed to the hospital.
A Close Call
Dan suffered a double aneurysm. Laura had to perform CPR on her husband. He later went through surgery and recovered. Over the next few years, Storage Wars became one of the most popular reality TV shows with millions of viewers.
While the show has a reputation for being quite troublesome, most viewers believe the show wouldn’t be the same without Dan and Laura. In 2015, Examiner.com wrote: “Thom Beers came up with the idea for Storage Wars, but Dan and Laura Dotson inspired it.” And one day, he would discover something he would never have imagined.
The Discovery of His Career
Fast forward to the woman who approached Dan. She told him of her friend who bought a storage unit from him for just $500. But that’s not the strange part. What’s unbelievable is what her friend found inside the unit.
The woman at the charity event had to remind Dotson of his sell. Of all the storage units he’s auctioned off on the show, it wasn’t easy to recall every sale he made. But this sale ended up coming back to haunt him. Dotson soon realized that he completely overlooked something inside the storage unit.
What’s in the Safe?
In the Twitter video that Dan posted, he revealed what the woman had told him. She said that her friend had purchased the unit and later found a mysterious safe. They obviously had to find out what was inside the safe.
As Murphy’s Law would have it, they couldn’t manage to open it up. So, they called a professional. The woman continued to tell him that even the professional locksmith couldn’t open the safe. “The first person they called to open the safe, I guess, couldn’t, or didn’t,” Dotson said. But they didn’t want to give up. “So they called a second person…”
Finally Getting It Opened
The woman’s friend then called yet another professional to come and open the safe, and this time it actually worked! “They called a second person, and when that person opened it up. Inside the safe, they’re normally empty, but this time it wasn’t empty…”
Dan’s life flashed before his eyes as this woman told him that they found $7.5 million inside the safe! Dotson had to ask her to repeat what she said to make sure he heard her right. That’s right, $7.5 million was stashed inside a storage unit that he bought from the auctioneer for $500.
At a Loss for Words
Dotson couldn’t find the words to react to what she told him. In all his years of auctioneering, he never came across this amount of money. When he was in the storage unit, he overlooked the money completely.
And he was quite distressed by the news. The photos that were posted on Facebook of the find, with all the stacks of cash, looked like the set of a gangster movie… After getting in touch with the buyer of his storage unit, who remains anonymous, Dotson revealed the story to the public. And that’s when people started asking questions.
How Did That Much Even End Up There?
In their video, Dan and Laura tried to work out how something like this could happen. “I don’t think you would forget that you have $7.5 million inside a unit,” he said. Laura had theories as to why: “Credit card went bad, it was finished, they moved away, perhaps the person went to jail. Who knows what it was?” she said.
Everyone was curious as to the origins of the cash. Rene Nezhoda, a thrift store owner who also worked on Storage Wars, believes that it must be a result of some illicit activity. “If you find money like that, there’s probably a reason it isn’t in the bank,” he said.
Finding the Previous Owner
They couldn’t prove anything and could only use the information they had, which wasn’t a lot. They eventually found the previous owner of the storage unit. And he had to hear that what was once his is now legally in the hands of someone else.
Unsurprisingly, the previous owner contacts their attorney with the hopes of getting their money back. Would they manage to argue their way back to their money? The previous owner was ready to negotiate with the current owner, looking to reach some sort of deal. It was a matter of how much to offer them that would be in their interest.
Reaching a Deal
They ended up offering the current owner $600,000 in exchange. But as you may guess, the current owner wasn’t so happy to hear that the previous owner of the $7.5 million suddenly came out of nowhere.
The new owner declined the offer. The reality of it is that the current owner was well within their rights to decline. They, indeed, made a business transaction in which they purchased an item (or a unit with items in it) for a price and, as a result, became the new owners of the items. The previous owners came back with a second offer.
This time around, they doubled it and offered $1.2 million instead. So, the new owner would essentially give $6.3 million to the previous owner. Dan and Laura thought about what they would do if they were involved in the legal dispute.
When asked if he would take the $1.2 million, Dan admitted that he would say yes to the deal. And he said it’s mostly because he wouldn’t want to go through the trouble of further negotiations. “I wouldn’t ask a damn thing,” he said. “$7.5 million is a lot of money…but that’s a lot of running, too.”
The Public Had Their Opinions
The public got involved, of course. Someone wrote the following: “If they had that much money, why didn’t they pay for the storage unit? Why would you put money in there anyway?” Another person wrote: “I’d keep it! Why the hell didn’t they claim it? Why the hell would they let it sit until someone bought the locker?”
The two parties eventually reached a decision. At the end of the day, the current owner decided to accept the third offer. He received an amount of just under $1.5 million as part of the deal. While it may be seen as a loss, the person still came out of the situation rich.
Dan’s Gonna Be Fine
Dotson might feel like he missed a big opportunity with that goldmine of a storage unit. But, based on his huge $4.5 million net worth, we can’t see him having too many financial issues anytime soon. While the average auctioneer is estimated to earn about $46,000 per year, Dan’s reputation as TV’s most famous auctioneer means that he’s earning somewhere around $300,000 per year.
And it appears that the apple may not fall too far from the tree. It looks like Dan and Laura’s son Garrett Dotson might just follow in his superstar parents’ footsteps.
They’re All Happy
When he was just 10 years old, Garrett did a bit of auctioneering of his own when he put up his dirt bike for auction. While his parents don’t pressure him to join them in the auctioneering game, it seems that Garrett has an unbreakable passion for all things car-related and works for Stance Show Off.
In the end, everyone involved took away something that benefited them. The previous owner got most of their money back, the current owner still came out of the deal rich, and Dotson ended up with an awesome story that would go completely viral! The Storage Wars man ended up receiving thousands of likes and comments on social media for his posts, which dropped just before the new season of Storage Wars.