If the father and son had made a simple Internet check of the two brothers, they would have quickly seen that one of the brothers had been in prison and was searching for a woman. They would have recognized his photograph at this website, and then they could have known that everything might not have been on the up and up. Or they could have used a paid public site such as PublicData.com to quickly — and cheaply — research their backgrounds. They would have learned that both have served lengthy prison sentences.
But that didn’t happen.
Often questionable contractors gain the trust of the elderly, and then they are off to the races.
Two tree trimming brothers were doing work at the home of a 79-year-old Fort Worth, Texas man. One brother, who owned a contracting business, said that the man’s house foundation was cracked. If repairs weren’t made, the elderly man was told, Fort Worth code compliance officers could condemn his house.
The elderly man, Royce Benson, trusted them. Billey Ray Burdick had done good work for him as a trimmer. His brother, Hubert Kent Burdick, who owned the handyman business, went into Benson’s home and started making repairs.
When all was said and done, Benson paid the brothers about $19,000 in January.
Benson’s son, Lyndy Benson, sent me photographs of the work Hubert Burdick did around the house.
He put concrete over the foundation cracks. Inside the house, he caulked windows and spread joint compound on wall cracks.
To me, it looked like a few hundred dollars’ worth of labor. Certainly not anything near $19,000.
Suspicious, the son contacted another foundation repair company for an estimate.
Darrel Ford of Atlas Foundation in Burleson estimated that the house actually needed about $6,000 worth of work. The estimate included a city permit and engineering work, something the Burdick brothers didn’t bother with.
What did Ford think of Hubert Burdick’s work?
“I don’t think they did anything that will help the foundation at all,” Ford told me. “It was smoke and mirrors. He got absolutely nothing for the money. He could have hired a high school kid to patch and caulk.”
The son said that when he confronted Hubert Burdick, Burdick promised that a crew would show up to finish the work.
“He got real nervous and left,” Lyndy Benson recalled.
Father and son never saw the brothers again.
I did a background check on the Burdick brothers.
Hubert Burdick, 48, served about 15 years in prison for burglary and driving while intoxicated, state records show. He was released in 2007. His business is called Country’s Contracting & Remodeling.
Billey Burdick, 46, received a life sentence in 1993 after burglary and forgery convictions (he had an earlier car theft conviction). He was released in 2008 and is on parole for the rest of his life. His business is called B&B Tree Trimming Service.
The Watchdog called the brothers at phone numbers provided by Royce Benson. They didn’t work. I also wrote letters to both men, whose addresses are on Manor Drive near Azle, asking for interviews. Hubert never responded, but Billey eventually contacted me and insisted that he had done nothing wrong. He was not involved in his brother’s business endeavors. [Two checks were made out to Billey, but Billey explained that this should not implicate him in any way.]
Lyndy Benson told me that he and his father called Fort Worth police but that a dispatcher said it sounded like a civil matter that the police wouldn’t handle. They said they also called the neighborhood police officer for Wedgwood but didn’t get a call back.
A Fort Worth police spokesman says he could find no records of any calls to the 911 operator by either father or son about the incident.
People who believe they have been hurt by contractors can also complain directly to their district attorney’s office.
Assistant District Attorney David Lobingier told me: “With the amount of money involved and the allegations you’ve told us about, it’s something we want to investigate. We don’t want anybody taking advantage of consumers like that.”
I told Lyndy Benson how to go to www.tarrantda.com and download a complaint form for his home county.
The story the brothers used on the elderly man — that the city could condemn the house — is false, Fort Worth Code Compliance Director Brandon Bennett said.
A house would be cited for a foundation violation if it were in danger of collapsing. But even then, he said, officers would work with owners and allow time to make repairs.
He adds, “If anyone has a contractor that says, ‘The city is going to nail you on this,’ call the city. … Really, we’re all about working with owners to get things fixed so it doesn’t become a large problem.”
Lyndy Benson told me that when his dad gave the brothers $19,000 in checks, “He overdrew his bank account by several thousand dollars. It was quite a headache to get it all sorted out.”
Because Billey Ray Burdick accepted some of the checks in his name (he said his brother couldn’t cash the checks because he didn’t have a driver’s license, according to Lyndy Benson), Billey Burdick could face problems with his parole officer. He checks in with the parole office in Mineral Wells, state records show.
Royce Benson says he can’t afford to get the foundation repaired now.
“This hurts a lot,” he says. “My home is my biggest investment. I want to keep it up.”
Check out foundation repair companies with the industry’s trade group, Foundation Repair Association, which tries to promote high ethical standards.
Investigate a company’s record at the Better Business Bureau.
Consider buying a subscription to a public background search website such as PublicData.com which more than pays for itself many times over.
Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber