The Watchdog: Home remodeler flouts Texas laws but gets caught in Louisiana

Only one tough guy ever came hunting for me in a newsroom. Three years ago, dude showed up at the front door grousing about a story I planned about him. I wasn’t around.

I was originally attracted to his transgressions as a deceptive home contractor as much as I was to his unforgettable name — Malachi Crump.

Malachi Crump turned out to be someone with a 19th-century-sounding Dickensian name who engaged in 21st-century broken promises. He was a convicted thief, burglar and drug user who was released early enough from a Texas prison that he remains on parole until 2018.

 

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He spent 10 years inside the joint, but when he got out in 2002 he advertised that he had been a home contractor with “31 years of service.” Unless he worked on the warden’s house, that couldn’t be true.

In North Texas, Crump plied his trade as a home remodeler, but actually he only plied half a trade. His style was to take money, start a job, demand more money, get it and then walk away. He suddenly became unavailable.

I knew of two such cases in Tarrant County. One woman was first the victim of a fire, then a victim of Malachi Crump. He removed all the walls in her home, even though it wasn’t necessary, and put only some back. Another woman asked him to remodel her home, but he pulled a Malachi Crump on her, too.

Both women took him to small claims court and won judgments against him. But he never paid.

When I asked a Tarrant County prosecutor why the state declined to make a criminal case, I was told that two small claims court losses do not constitute a pattern. When someone starts a job, it’s harder to prove they have criminal intent. The reasons behind unfinished work can be seen as a contract dispute, rather than a crime. Crump got away with it.

I lost track of Crump until recently when a Louisiana bounty hunter called and ask if I knew where he was hiding.

Turns out Crump had gone to New Orleans, where he continued to ply his half a trade, his start-and-stop home remodeling. Only New Orleans authorities enforce such crimes with greater vigor.

New Orleans prosecutors charged him with stealing $100,000 from three families who hired him to restore their homes after Hurricane Katrina. In each case, he pulled the same maneuvers. Start and stop.

A New Orleans jury convicted him on three counts of theft. Last week, a judge sentenced him to 10 years on each count for a total 30-year sentence. Court records show the sentence is “hard labor.” Malachi Crump is 65 years old.

“We were very aggressive about it,” a spokesman for the Orleans Parish district attorney tells me.

What Crump did in Texas wasn’t enough to get his parole revoked. In Louisiana, Crump is set to spend the rest of his life in prison.

He tried to wiggle out of it. Before his trial, he brought a $40,000 check to court and offered to pay restitution to his victims. Prosecutors turned down the offer so they could take him to trial.

Their sympathy for him was low, especially after he fled Louisiana and returned to Texas before his trial. That’s when the bounty hunter came along. He found him.

“The DA wanted to make an example out of Mr. Crump,” Crump’s lawyer, Eusi Phillips, tells me. “I think they were interested in a headline about a contractor guilty of fraud. I don’t think there was justice in this matter. Unfortunately, Mr. Crump is probably going to spend the rest of his life in prison, and the victims will never see their homes get whole and get their money back.”

North Texas victims won’t be compensated either, but they are not complaining.

“I want to thank Louisiana for getting him because Texas would not do anything,” Sherita Musgrove says.

After Crump took her money following a house fire, she lost her house in a foreclosure. “Ever since he did that to me, everything went downhill. It was hard to find somewhere to stay. I’m living in an apartment now.”

Irashonette Tatum, another victim, said she had to pay double to complete the job because she hired a second contractor to do the work.

“I feel good about his conviction,” she says. “I think they pursued it more in Louisiana.”

Louisiana requires residential contractors to get a license. (Crump didn’t have one.) Not so in Texas, where general contractors are unlicensed.

Doesn’t matter for Malachi Crump. He’s officially retired from the home remodeling business. But in Louisiana, his hard labor is about to begin.

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Subject of Watchdog Nation report convicted of theft

Malachi Crump, subject of a previous Watchdog Nation report, has been convicted in New Orleans of stealing more than $100,000 from families who sought to rebuild their homes destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

Crump, 64, was found guilty in November 2013 on three counts of felony theft, one for each family he swindled, the New Orleans Advocate reports.

Crump, on parole and never licensed in Louisiana, owned Chimere’s Builders. He signed contracts with three elderly women promising to completely renovate their homes. They gave him thousands in down payments and some wrote additional checks for supplies, according to published reports. Authorities say he did some work at some houses and nothing at others. When the homeowners began asking questions, he disappeared.

Watchdog Nation first reported Crump’s similar activities in Texas. Read that Watchdog Nation report on Malachi Crump here.

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Malachi Crump

Malachi Crump

 

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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.”

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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.”

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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

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