In December 2021, exactly six months after she had registered a campaign committee to run for governor of Oklahoma as a Libertarian, Natalie Bruno bought a Pure Tan 24/7 salon in Yukon by signing an owner-finance agreement that committed her to pay $40,000 for the business and its assets over the next year.
Now, nearly 10 months into the arrangement, the tanning salon is closed, Bruno is a month away from the November general election, and two district court judges have awarded default judgments against her in a pair of lawsuits related to the failed business venture. Bruno neither responded to the lawsuits in writing, nor appeared for court dates, which caused an Oklahoma County judge to order her to pay $27,000 to the plaintiffs who sold her the business. They have since filed an application for wage garnishment from Bruno’s job in the marketing industry.
“Yes, I was sued for breach of contract for a tanning salon that was purchased,” Bruno said in a statement to NonDoc over the weekend. “There were unpaid monies remaining on the agreement I signed and I agreed to garnishment to have the remaining repaid.”
Bruno, 37, said “there is a lot more to the situation than what appears at face value.”
“But I refuse to throw others I care about under the bus to save face because I am running for public office,” Bruno said. “It is not their fault that I am in the public eye and this was a civil matter that normally wouldn’t see the light of day and pales in comparison to lawsuits my opponents have faced. Just know that this is a great example of how small businesses feel inflation/economic issues in a big way but they do not receive the bailouts that large companies do.”
Judge: ‘Defendant made no appearance’
Noel and Susan Staton sued Bruno in Oklahoma County District Court on Aug. 17, alleging that Bruno had stopped making payments on the $40,000 she agreed to pay in the owner-finance agreement she signed Dec. 15, 2021. The agreement, included in the Statons’ motion for default judgment, said Bruno would receive all tanning salon assets for $40,000, with $5,000 paid as “upfront interest” and monthly installments of at least $1,800 required per month, plus 15 percent of quarterly profits.
In their August petition, the Statons said Bruno paid only $4,000 of the “upfront interest” required in the contract and had not made the required monthly payments for May, July or August.
Bruno was issued a summons on Aug. 22 for a court hearing on Sept. 23, but she failed to appear. Her absence led the Statons to request default judgment on their behalf, which Oklahoma County District Court Judge Anthony Bonner granted Sept. 29.
“The defendant has made no appearance or filed any pleadings in this action, and defendant is in default,” Bonner wrote in his order.
Bruno was ordered to pay $27,000 — the amount she still owes for the business — to the Statons, who also own a lawn company. Additionally, Bonner ordered her to pay $317.14 in costs and $1,500 in attorney fees.
“The documents speak for themselves,” said Les Bennett Jr., the lawyer for the Statons.
Bruno’s landlord for the Pure Tan 24/7 location — John Ta, LLC — also filed a petition Sept. 19 in Canadian County District Court, alleging that Bruno owed more than $2,500 in unpaid rent.
Bruno did not attend a Sept. 26 hearing, and a judge ultimately ordered Bruno to vacate the Yukon strip-mall, located at 353 E. Main St.
Bruno: ‘A complete bait-and-switch disaster’
NonDoc originally asked Bruno about the pair of civil lawsuits — one brought by the sellers of the tanning salon for breach of contract and another by the building’s landlord — following a half-hour interview regarding her gubernatorial campaign on Sept. 26.
Bruno, a marketing executive with Skyline Media Group who announced her candidacy for governor in June 2021, said she bought the Pro Tan 24/7 business from a client because she has previous experience managing a tanning salon. Problems quickly arose.
“That is a really, really frustrating deal,” Bruno said Sept. 26.
Bruno said she was lied to when she bought the salon from Noel Staton.
“It was a complete bait-and-switch disaster,” Bruno said. “And I didn’t do my due diligence by asking for a lot of the proofs of things because he was a client of mine and I trusted him.”
While she admitted that she did not do enough research before she bought the business, Bruno also said she wished Staton would take more accountability for the situation.
“He’s kind of being a butthead about taking accountability for some of it, too,” Bruno said. “And I’m like, ‘I can’t pay — I have six kids — I can’t pay my own income to cover stuff because you lied about how much it was making.'”
Bruno said she fell behind on her payments because of the situation.
“I haven’t been paying him because I wanted certain things information-wise from him, and we’ve been going back and forth,” she said. “It’s just turned into a disaster, pretty much.”
Bruno said she was promised working equipment when she bought the business, but “half” of the machines were broken when she took over.
“We spent so much money the first couple months fixing everything that was supposed to be in working order,” Bruno said.
According to the terms of the purchase, which are included in the Statons’ petition, Bruno bought the business and all of its assets, including the equipment, “as is.”
Bruno said she had been promised monthly revenue of at least $5,000 in existing memberships with the business, but when she took over the accounts, she saw that many patrons had been trying to cancel their memberships with the salon for months. Yelp reviews from July 2021 — five months before Bruno signed the purchase agreement — criticized the existing management.
“I’m hoping he had no idea how bad it had gotten,” Bruno said. “Because it was his 22-year-old daughter that was managing it.”
Bruno, however, chose not to make any of these arguments in court, something that perplexed the Statons’ attorney.
“Whenever I found out that she was running for governor, I had assumed that a high-profile kind of person would hire an attorney, or at least make an appearance or even contact me just to try to settle the matter,” Bennett said. “I’ve never been contacted by her. She was served in person, and for reasons that are her own, elected not to file a response or make an appearance or anything. So (there is) not much to it other than I’m just kind of surprised. I expected it to go a little differently.”
Bruno said she closed the salon “about a month ago” because it “didn’t make financial sense to keep it open.” She said selling the tanning equipment might cover the money she owes the prior owner.
“We all have crazy, personal things that pop up,” Bruno said.
Staton: ‘She’s not a very trustworthy person’
Following the original publication of this article on Monday, Noel Staton contacted NonDoc to rebut some of Bruno’s statements, saying he tried to help her in numerous ways throughout the debacle.
“All she had to do is just say, ‘You know, I went and purchased this business — it just didn’t work out for me,’” Staton said. “But then to slander me the way that she did (…) I gave her every benefit of the doubt to be good on this.”
Staton said he started looking to sell the salon when his daughter, who had been working there, went to college. When Bruno, who had experience running a tanning salon, expressed interest, he thought it seemed like the “perfect fit.”
Calling most of Bruno’s statements lies, Staton said the original agreement was for her to buy the salon outright for $35,000. Staton showed NonDoc text message exchanges and a November 2021 check signed by Bruno for $35,000, which he said failed to clear.
Staton said Bruno was very upset about the situation and he wanted to help her. As a result, he said he offered the month-to-month owner-financing arrangement if the price went up to $40,000. They signed the contract.
Eventually, Bruno fell behind on those payments, leading to the lawsuit.
“She was late every time,” Staton said. “I had to call her constantly. And then she missed May’s (payment), paid June’s late, and then missed July and August. And I gave her ample opportunity. She just started avoiding my calls.”
Staton said he overlooked the first few late payments and Bruno’s failure to pay the full interest amount.
“I wanted to help her out, because I thought she was honest about it,” Staton said. “And it turns out, she’s not. She’s lying about the equipment — all the equipment was working, except for one tanning bed, and I got that fixed prior to her taking over.”
Staton said he decided to sue Bruno after she began avoiding him.
“And that’s where it’s gotten to,” Staton said. “And, you know, I tried every way to help her out.”
In response to Bruno’s statements about the salon’s client list, Staton said the tanning industry is seasonal by nature.
“I told her up front, ‘You know the tanning business — your portion may be $3,000 a month right now, but in March, April, May, June, when people are tanning to go to the beaches, [revenue] gets up to $7-$8,000 a month,'” he said.
Additionally, Staton said he warned Bruno that many of the salon’s clients were people with whom he had worked to build relationships, who might take their business elsewhere once he sold it.
“So I told her, ‘Expect some losses, it’s just going to happen,’” Staton said. “I mean, that’s part of doing business. It’s your job to build it back up. You’re in advertisement, and you can advertise this business, to the tee, with very minimal cost to you.”
With the saga appearing to draw to a close, Staton said he will “absolutely not” vote for Bruno to be governor in November.
“She wrote me a hot check,” Staton said. “And I should have known then, ‘Don’t do this, Noel.’ But then, she’s got a family and she’s trying to do better for herself and all this stuff, and (it) just got my heart a little torn. (…) She’s not a very trustworthy person. She’s done nothing but lie to me the whole time.”
Reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, Bruno contended that she did not realize she was being asked about the lawsuits on the record.
“I would have been a lot more clarifying in my answers had I realized I was on the record,” she said.
Bruno walked back some of her comments about the state of the salon when she bought it, saying the equipment broke after the purchase.
“When I purchased it, things started breaking,” Bruno said. “It was like Murphy’s Law — everything started falling apart. (…) I wasn’t blaming them for that.”
She also said that some of the salon’s clients did not transfer to her ownership from Staton.
“When you buy a business, and you buy it as is, then even though those things happened, and it sucks, it’s still your responsibility,” Bruno said.
(Update: This article was updated at 6:20 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, to include comments from Noel Staton and additional remarks from Natalie Bruno.)