Here we go again.
Two billion dollars in damages from the recent tornadoes. Not enough competent contractors, builders and roofers to fix this.
Since Texas is the only Gulf state without regulations guarding against incompetence, fraud and theft, who will fill the gap? Some bad guys. You know that, right?
I’m going to share new information here about car sales and an electricity company in trouble. But first, as a cautionary tale, it’s a good time to check in on the House of Tomorrow roofing scam, the biggest roofing flimflam in these parts, maybe ever.
More than a hundred homeowners in Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington gave insurance money to Jorge Garcia’s House of Tomorrow roofing company. But they never got a roof.
Most of the victims were Hispanic, low-income or elderly people who let Garcia’s company conduct “free” roof inspections. He provided marketing materials in both English and Spanish and promised no out-of-pocket expenses for the homeowner. Too good to be true.
Now comes a ruling in a civil fraud case. A Tarrant County judge has ordered Garcia and his company to pay victims $500,000 in contract damages and another $180,000 in legal fees.
Do you think Garcia went rushing to the bank and withdrew $680,000 to clear his name?
“I wish,” says lawyer Steven J. Badger, who brought the lawsuit. “Not a dime. Garcia is nowhere to be found.”
He goes to prison
Don’t think every one of these guys gets away with it. A year ago, I shared the story of Christopher Eric Smith, owner of Halo Alliance. A Bedford woman accused him of taking her money for a remodeling job and then, she said, he “ran away.” I guess he took his halo with him.
In an interview at the time, he denied wrongdoing.
“It’s a messy deal,” he said. “It’s crazy. I’ve never had anything like this before.” He promised to fight the charges in court.
I checked on his status. He’s now serving a three-year sentence in state prison.
How he got there is a bit unusual. He was on probation from a drunk driving conviction in Denton County, records show. In Tarrant County, he was indicted for his failure to complete work on the Bedford woman’s home. After that, Tarrant County investigator Mark Taylor traveled to Denton County and testified about the contracting charges. A Denton judge sentenced Smith to three years for the probation violation. Smith also pleaded guilty to the contracting failure and received a six-month sentence that he’s serving concurrently with the 3-year sentence.
A contractor criminal who goes to jail is so rare that I’m going to give a shout-out to the major players: Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Nathan Martin and Denton County prosecutor Spencer Robuck, and, of course, investigator Taylor.
Watchdog updated tips
If you know someone who needs to hire a builder for repairs, I updated my Watchdog’s cheat sheet on how to find honest ones.
Search for “If you’ve been hit by the storm and need repairs, your super consumer instincts must kick in.” (You can always find my recent stories at DallasNews.com/watchdog.)
Big electricity penalty
I criticize the (public) Utility Commission for going too easy on electricity companies — so much so that I stripped the word “public” out of its name. Thus, it’s only fair that I praise the pro-utility commission when they surprise.
Just Energy — which also owns Amigo Energy, Fulcrum Energy and Tara Energy — has been ordered to pay a $700,000 penalty for billing mishaps that occurred six years ago.
State regulators accused the companies of billing errors that affected some low-income customers who had used the state’s now-abandoned low-income bill assistance program.
The company serves almost a half million customers in Texas.
Company spokesman Boyd Erman said that all customer accounts were properly credited to make up for the errors.
He added, “We are pleased the matter is now behind us.”
AutoNation under fire
On this next one, I don’t know whom to believe, but I will share both sides so you can decide. A new report from TexPIRG, a consumer public-interest group, accuses AutoNation, the nation’s largest auto retailer, of selling cars that required recall repairs that weren’t done.
The group says it studied 2,400 vehicles in 12 states including Texas. One out of seven vehicles sold at AutoNation locations in Texas were a danger on the road, the group claims.
The group reported, “Unfixed dangers include potentially explosive Takata airbags, dangerous GM ignition switches and other serious safety defects that lead to manufacturers issuing a recall.”
What does AutoNation say?
“False and inaccurate info,” spokesman Marc Cannon tells me.
He sent me a lengthy statement that explained AutoNation complies with laws.
“No vehicle is sold with open recalls,” it stated.
But later on, the statement contradicts itself: “If the parts are on hand, we repair the vehicle. If there are no parts available for the foreseeable future, contingent on manufacturer instructions, we either hold the vehicle or sell it with full disclosure.”
Customers are required to sign a recall disclosure notice alerting them to a vehicle’s recall status, it continues.
However, TexPIRG recommends that if a vehicle has any outstanding recalls, don’t buy it.