Scam in Alabama city makes it on HBO's 'Generation Hustle'

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OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — HBO's new true crime documentary series "Generation Hustle" features the city of Opelika and Roundhouse, the startup business incubator founded by now-convicted felon Kyle Sandler.

The series, which dropped on HBO Max Thursday, features interviews from several Opelika residents familiar with Sandler and Roundhouse in its ninth episode entitled "The Alabama Exit."

The episode features interviews of acquaintances, city leaders and former coworkers of Sandler's including former Roundhouse employee Emily Baas, Ampersand Owner Nelson Marsh, now-suspended District Attorney Brandon Hughes, Dr. George Purves, former Opelika-Auburn News reporter Meagan Hurley and Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller.

While Fuller said he wished the episode had shown more of the good side of the Opelika community, he said HBO had "pretty much told the story of what happened."

"Kyle Sandler was a con artist, and he came in and conned some folks out of some money and got put in prison for it," Fuller said. "I hate it for those folks that really lost and were disappointed, and hopefully they'll come back stronger and better than ever."

Sandler, who started the Roundhouse in 2014, closed the business about two years after it opened and after about $2 million dollars had been put into the company by more than 50 investors.

The episode begins with Sandler's arrival to the city of Opelika, false claims he made about being one of the original Google employees and the initial success and excitement around the business incubator.

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"Everyone says, 'Kyle Sandler, former Google employee.' Nobody ever bothered to check that," Sandler says in an audio recording on the ninth episode of Generation Hustle. "One of the things to look at was how easy it was for me to — anything I said was taken as gospel."

As the episode goes on, it explores Sandler's association with millionaire businessman John McAffee, Sandler's guidance of then-14-year-old Opelika native Taylor Rosenthal and his business idea for first-aid vending machine RecMed, and Sandler's eventual closure of Roundhouse and arrest after his lies began to unravel.

After closing Roundhouse unexpectedly in 2016 when Sandler said the business "ran out of money," he was arrested in Brazos County, Texas, on Lee County warrants in June 2018 and was brought back to Alabama.

U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins sentenced Sandler to five years and three months in prison for federal charges in March 2019 and ordered Sandler to return $1.9 million to investors.

"Your job from this day forward is to make your actions align with your words," Watkins told Sandler at his sentencing hearing.

"Remorse doesn't begin to say it," Sandler told the judge during a February 2019 court appearance. "I'm disgusted with myself."

Two months after Roundhouse closed, Collaboration Station moved into the Roundhouse's former location on South Eighth Street in downtown Opelika and provides coworking and office spaces for businesses to rent.

Fuller said the city of Opelika is as successful as it's ever been despite the incident involving Sandler and the Roundhouse and that local businesses have still found a way to thrive there.

"Opelika didn't miss a beat when the Roundhouse went out of business," Fuller said. "We were sorry that it did, and we were sorry folks lost money, but our community is too resilient and we've been successful with business and industry. … Our community is too strong and we've come too far, and (Sandler) was just a blip on the radar. It wasn't something we all went into mourning for weeks and weeks about. We kept on going."