Joe Manchin’s first legislative deal 30 years ago

   “See that guy? He’s going to be governor one day.”

   The words came from an elder statesman of the West Virginia Legislature, telling a young reporter, me, some 30 years ago, about the future of a freshman state representative named Joe Manchin.

  And the words came true. Not only did young Manchin grow up and become governor, he’s now a U.S. senator. And today, the day the Democrat announced his compromise bipartisan solution with Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to expand background checks for gun buyers, the young prodigy has come of age. He’s one of the best known politicians in the land. An example of how to work with the opposite party to get things done.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

   I’m not surprised at his deal-making abilities. As a young statehouse reporter for the Charleston Gazette, I was an eyewitness to his very first legislative deal. I was there to show readers the ugly process of making legislation, often referred to as “how the sausage is made.” Manchin was launching a long political career that peaked today with his bipartisan announcement in the nation’s capitol.

   I still remember him hunched over on one knee by the desk of a state senator working his magic. I watched him carefully that night on March 12, 1983 as I tried to trace how last-minute legislative deals are cooked up and served. It’s ugly. And the rookie put on quite a show, and then like most politicians, he denied that what I just saw had ever happened.

   In West Virginia, the final night of the annual state legislature is frantic. All the work, all the bills up for a vote, seem to happen in the final hour. It’s as if you played a game of checkers over several months, but in the end, you have to make 100 moves in less than an hour. Oh, and don’t forget the cheating.

  The rule is that all bills must pass before midnight, or else all is lost. But that night in West Virginia – I’ll never forget this – someone stopped the clock at 11:59 p.m. and the work continued. Here’s what happened:

   With 40 minutes to go before midnight (the real midnight) Manchin makes an about-face on an issue he ardently opposed. He suddenly – and, at first, no one knows why – supports the idea of a hospital rate-setting board that would put a cap on hospital rates throughout the state.

   Previous to that, he had railed against the idea, calling it “a bureaucratic noose around the heads of hospitals.” But now, at 11:20 p.m. his signature suddenly appears on a conference report supporting the bill – and clearing it for passage. He won’t say why.

   Another lawmaker, though, spills the beans. “We did some heavy duty negotiating,” he says about Manchin. For what? I don’t know. Not yet.

   A jobs bill is supposed to come up next. The bill is designed to create jobs in a coal economy staggering under an early 1980s recession. But that bill would have to wait.

   I overhear the Senate President telling his aides, “The next bill we will take is the physical therapists bill.”

   This makes no sense. A physical therapists bill with only a half hour to go? A bill that would allow patients to see physical therapists without a doctor’s referral? This, in the final moments, in a state hurting for jobs?

   Manchin hovers around the Senate clerk’s desk, watching. He should be on the other side of the state Capitol voting from his House chair, but something is bugging him. And it’s not unemployment.

   Turns out Manchin is the nephew of a similarly named Joe Manchin, a physical therapist in Fairmount, W. Va. The PT bill is Manchin’s. Although for the entire session, senators had fought vigorously against the bill, everyone seems to be rolling over now.

   Nine minutes ‘til midnight.

   “PT bill! PT bill!” senators cry out.

   I’m confused. Are they talking about the all-important property tax limitation bill, one that would save West Virginians hundreds of dollars on their property taxes? Naw. They have to get to the physical therapists bill.

   Now with minutes to go, it’s becoming clear. Manchin changed his position on the hospital cost bill so he could grab this gift for his uncle and his uncle’s PT buddies.

   Sen. Larry Tucker, who later would go to prison for taking a bribe from gambling lobbyists, tells me, “They’re paying Manchin off.” Not with cash, though, but with votes.

   I ask Manchin point blank, “Why are they running your bill here right after hospital cost containment? Was there any kind of an arrangement?”

   My tape recorder captures his answer: “No, no, no,” he says. “No, no, no.”

   But the truth is yes, yes, yes. His bill passes.

   The clock shows 11:59 p.m.

   I look at my watch. It’s well after midnight.

  Another political star is born, a star that shines ever so brightly these days as Manchin is cited as someone who can get things done.

  And this is how it all began for U.S. Senator Joe Manchin and his deal-making skills.


Do a quick background check before workers enter your house

When I told Barry Boardman that the appliance repairman he let into his house to fix his refrigerator, the one who took his $175 deposit check and never returned, had a criminal record for theft, everything suddenly made sense to him.

Mugshot of refrigerator repairman Michael Stoneham

All summer, he kept calling Michael Stoneham asking for a refund of his deposit since he never got the new motor Stoneham promised.

“He kept giving me excuses,” Boardman recalls. He said Stoneham claimed he got in a car accident, and his brakes weren’t fixed right.

Then he said the check was in the mail. Then he stopped answering his phone.

“He just hangs up. He’s hoping I’ll let it go and stop calling.”

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, Boardman, of Fort Worth, wrote me, “I know this is a small case compared to other letters you get. I am at a loss about how to get my money back or keep other people from having the same problem with this company.”

To me, it’s not only the money; it’s about the idea that any appliance repairman could so easily fall short on doing his job — and get away with it. Years ago, a repairman who repaired correctly and was paid an honest dollar was the rule. Today, you don’t know who is walking in your front door.

The Watchdog can’t get Boardman his money back. Stoneham declined to talk to me when I reached him by telephone. But by looking at how this happened and what consumers can do to protect themselves, Boardman may get his second wish: keep other people from having the same problem.

Step by step

Boardman picked Stoneham and his company, Pro-Tech Appliance Repair, out of the Yellow Pages. He had hired him once before, and the job had gone well. But in these trying times, some businesses that once were successful now cut corners to stay afloat. Sadly, the Yellow Pages are no longer a credible source on their own. But that’s OK. Thanks to the Internet, I learned in a matter of minutes what I needed to know.

First, I checked the Better Business Bureau and saw that Stoneham’s business had an F rating for “failure to respond to two complaints filed against business.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I found his company address on a business directory site on the Internet. Usually, when a business has a physical address, that’s a good sign. Then I went to the Tarrant Appraisal District website ( and looked up the owner of the property. After typing the landlord’s name into my favorite Internet reverse telephone directory (, I found his phone number.

Called the landlord and asked for a reference on Stoneham, his tenant. The landlord said, “He hasn’t been there for the last four or five months. He broke his lease. He was always late paying. He owes at least the last month.”

Then I went to another of my favorite websites, ($30 annual subscription fee), and found his driver’s license number. With that, I knew his birth date. He’s 53. With that, I could search the criminal database on, which showed a 2005 conviction for theft that resulted in probation.

Internet searches are not always reliable, so I double-checked with the Dallas County Criminal Courts database (free), which verified the conviction.

Confirmed it all with a neat app on my iPhone called Texas Criminal Record Search (99 cents), which needs only a name and a date of birth. Stoneham’s conviction came up there, too.

I shared this with Boardman, then showed him a photo of Stoneham I found on the website. When Boardman saw the police mug shot, he said, “It’s scary looking at that mug shot and thinking I invited him in my house and handed him a check.”

That’s another thing. Never pay repair techs before the work is completed. (We all learn the hard way.)

One problem is that in Texas, appliance repair techs (unlike plumbers and heating/air conditioning techs) are not required to have a license, enroll in continuing education classes or undergo a background check.

“The state of Texas doesn’t require any kind of background check?” Boardman asked. “That’s unnerving.”

Of course, if your particular state licenses repair workers, then that’s probably the only call or website search you need to check.

But remember, no matter where you live, there are plenty of places now available online, many of them free, that offer information in seconds that you’ll want to know.

Visit Watchdog Nation HeadquartersDave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber 



Woman learns lesson about checking a contractor’s background

Malachi Crump promoted his small home construction business two years ago with a flier that said his company had been in business since 1978. He was proud, it said, of “our 31 years of service.”

But for almost 10 of those years, Crump was in prison.

Malachi Crump

Malachi Crump

Sherita Musgrove didn’t know that when she got a referral from a friend to hire Crump. She needed a contractor who could restore her grandmother’s house after an electrical fire.

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber column first learned, Crump promised to do a great job, and she signed a contract to pay $36,000 to his company, Ashley Designer Homes: $12,000 upfront, $12,000 when the job was 50 percent complete and the rest when the job was done.

But Musgrove says that after she paid him $14,000 in insurance money, Crump stopped work.

The insurance company sent another check for $4,000, and Musgrove got Crump to co-sign it. But then she gave it to a second contractor whom she brought in to replace Crump. That angered Crump, who told her she owed him $10,000. When she didn’t give it to him, he filed a mechanic’s lien for $10,000 on the property.

“We did the work,” Crump’s business associate, Danielle Abram, says in the lien’s affidavit. The company removed the burnt materials, demolished four bedrooms, two living rooms and a kitchen, and removed all flooring. The company hired an electrician, bought materials, installed drywall, replaced rafters and removed front siding, the affidavit says.

The insurance company stopped sending money to Musgrove, saying work on the house had to be completed. But that wasn’t going to happen with Crump, Musgrove decided. Because Crump had ceased work on the house, she believed that he had terminated the contract. Based on that, she sued him in small-claims court for $10,000.

In a brief interview recently, Crump said he can prove that Musgrove owes him $10,000. “I got copies. I got pictures. I got facts. I got everything. See? She doesn’t have it. I do.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Crump did some work, but nowhere near enough to justify the amount of money she paid him, Musgrove maintains.

Ultimately, however, the dispute is a legal question about the contract. At issue is which of the two can stop performing his or her end of the agreement, at what point and for what reason, said Julie Forrester of the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

“The general contract rule is that a party can stop their performance if the other party committed a material breach” of the contract, she said.

But a judge or jury may have to decide the issue.

Musgrove might have avoided problems had she done her homework before signing the contract.

She didn’t look into Crump’s background until after their falling-out.

Then she learned that Crump, 62, was sentenced to four years in prison for theft in 1983, according to state and county records. He served eight years from 1994 to 2002 on a drug charge. He’s under parole supervision until 2018. Crump also has convictions for burglary in 1968 and theft by check in 1981.

He filed for bankruptcy in 2006. The Internal Revenue Service said he owed $94,000, among other debts. His case was dismissed in 2007 when he didn’t show up for a required meeting of creditors.

Musgrove says that if she had known any of those details, she would not have hired him.

She also learned about a neighbor who had a similar dispute with Crump. Irashonette Tatum hired Crump in 2005 to do a home renovation. She paid him $15,000 but couldn’t find him so he could finish, Tatum told me.

In 2008, she sued him in small-claims court. Crump didn’t appear and lost a $10,000 default judgment. He has never paid Tatum, according to court records.

In Tatum’s notes for her court hearing, she wrote a list of excuses she heard from Crump.

“He would say: ‘I had a heart attack. I’ve been in the hospital. I got electrocuted, so I’ve been out of work, and I got sick and found out I was a diabetic, and I had to have surgery on my foot. I passed out. After I go to New Orleans and do some work I will come back and finish your house.’

“He was always convincing,” she says. “That’s why I let this go on for so long.”

Aside from Ashley Designer Homes, Crump’s business has operated under the names of Chimeres Builders and Chimere’s Designer Homes.

I spoke to Crump several times seeking an interview. The first time I called him, he answered and said, “I’m in the hospital right now.”

When I asked about Musgrove’s claims, he said, “I filed two lawsuits against her, one in small-claims court and one in federal court.”

I could not find either.

Musgrove’s small-claims case against him is scheduled for March 10 at the Tarrant County Precinct 8 Justice of the Peace Court. Federal court records show no recent lawsuits filed by Crump.

“I’m going to get the attorney to call you so you won’t have to call me because it’s been filed,” he said. “Believe me, I’m on the winning side. That’s all I’m going to tell you.”

No attorney called.

When I asked about Tatum, he said, “I don’t know anybody named Tatum” and hung up.

What has Musgrove learned? “Do a thorough background check on contractors.”

Visit Watchdog Nation HeadquartersDave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is available in hardcover, as a CD audio book, ebook and hey, what else do you need. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber


Background checks on pennies a day

One of the easiest ways to scour available public records is through a computerized database call

As an investigative columnist, I’ve been using the site for more than a decade.

I can check criminal and civil records, sex offender records and many other databases within seconds. I use it mostly for criminal background checks and also to find people through their driver’s license records.

The information on it is mostly accurate. I would never put anything in the newspaper found on the database without verifying it further. But it gives me a great start.

In my book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, I devote many pages to how consumers can use sites such as to learn information about individuals and companies before you hire them.

The cost for an individual annual account is about $30. Prices vary for corporate accounts. Here is the pricing schedule.

As a watchdog journalist writing the Dave Lieber column serving the public, I can say that this is my favorite database website.

As I showed in a previous post about an elderly man who lost $20,000 on bogus foundation repairs, this service easily pays for itself thousands of 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

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation book won two national awards for social change.