When we went around the table on Thanksgiving night and talked about what each of us was thankful for, I told my family and friends the story of Royce Benson.
The last time I told you about Benson, 80, of Fort Worth, there was absolutely nothing for which to be thankful. He lost $19,000 when a man he hired to fix his foundation ran off with the money.
For readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column who saw it first, it was a heartbreaker. Two brothers gained Benson’s trust. Billey Ray Burdick was a tree trimmer, and Benson says he did a great job. Hubert Burdick ran a small remodeling business and sometimes helped his brother.
Benson didn’t know it, but both had served 15 years in state prison for various crimes. Hubert Burdick promised to make foundation repairs. He and Benson agreed to a one-page, handwritten contract: “Replace two corners. Place seven steel rods all around house. Seal all cracks in brick. Seal all cracks in walls and inside.”
None of that happened. Benson put a deep dent in his savings with the $19,000 he paid the brothers in January. The only work done was some quick out-of-the-bag concrete patchwork and a bit of amateurish caulking. Afterward, Benson said, he felt like a fool.
“This hurts a lot,” Benson told Watchdog readers. “My home is my biggest investment, and I wanted to keep it up.”
Within hours of the column’s publication, I began receiving calls from foundation repair companies. Each wanted to help Benson.
The first to call was Aron Finn from Perma-Pier Foundation Repair in Dallas. Finn said the story disturbed him. We began making arrangements for him to get involved.
Then a mystery reader alerted Canadian contractor Mike Holmes of HGTV fame about the story. In his TV show, Holmes on Homes, he heroically battles shoddy contracting practices by redoing the work. He gathers contractors and suppliers who donate time and supplies to carry out Holmes’ motto and “make it right.”
I got a call from one of Holmes’ assistants in Canada. He said Holmes heard about the story and wanted to make it right. Was The Watchdog interested in working with him?
So I’m thankful that for the past year, I got an education on foundation repair and enjoyed watching those folks work together. Finn made the job his pet project. “We just got really emotionally involved with the whole thing,” he says. “It’s not right what happened to him.”
Workers found a leaking sewer pipe, which, along with drainage problems, left standing water in the back yard. That undermined the stability of the soil.
Chris Head of Roto-Rooter performed pressure tests and determined that the sewer line needed replacing. The Fort Worth company did that for free and also replaced the kitchen sink, tub and shower lines.
Perma-Pier workers installed 12-by-12-inch surface drains that will capture most of the water. They also injected soil stabilizer Condor SS, a chemical designed to keep the soil under the house from retaining standing water.
It’s a common problem in North Texas: Soil with a high clay concentration reacts strongly to moisture. A house expands when it gets wet and shrinks when it dries out during the summer.
After that part is done, the company will install the piers underneath. “It’s going to be a large job,” Finn says.
Benson is delighted with his change of fortune. He calls the workers volunteering at his home “upright and outstanding.”
Meanwhile, the Tarrant County district attorney’s office is investigating the contract between Benson and Hubert Burdick as a criminal matter because of the large amount of money involved. Assistant District Attorney David Lobingier said he intends to present the case to a grand jury in a month or so.
In a phone interview this year, Billey Ray Burdick denied any involvement, saying it was his brother’s business. Benson accuses Billey Ray Burdick of asking that two checks he wrote be made out to him. Burdick says that was done at Benson’s request.
Billey Ray Burdick, 46, received a life sentence in 1993 after burglary and forgery convictions; he also had an earlier car theft conviction. He was released in 2008 and is on parole for the rest of his life.
Hubert Burdick, 48, served about 15 years for burglary and driving while intoxicated, state records show. He was released in 2007. His business is Country’s Contracting & Remodeling. I have been unable to contact him.
Disclosure: Mike Holmes’ U.S. magazine debuted this month with a story about Benson and the Burdicks. I was paid to write the “Holmes Heroes” story, and I’m thankful for that. (Note: New Federal Trade Commission rules require bloggers to disclose when they promote a product for which they are paid.)
I donated the earnings to Summer Santa, an all-volunteer children’s charity I co-founded in 1997 with Westlake Municipal Judge Brad Bradley. The money is enough to send two or three children to summer camp next year.
On a personal note, I’m thankful that SummerSanta.org has helped more than 33,000 area children in need with camp scholarships, free medical checkups, toys for area charities, back-to-school clothing, school supplies and other after-school programs. I’m thankful for the hundreds of volunteers and donors who make that happen year after year.
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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