A surprising day at the Texas Legislature

I covered my first political race for a daily newspaper in 1975. Bully Mayor Frank Rizzo of Philadelphia won reelection. Since then I’ve covered zoning boards, city councils, legislatures in several states and even events at the White House.

But I saw something today that I’ve never seen before. And it wasn’t pretty.

Let’s start at the beginning.

For those who have followed my Watchdog Nation since it was created in 2008, you know it’s about showing you how easy it is to protect yourself against corporate and criminal bullies – if you know what you’re doing. The impetus for the consumer rights movement came about when I had personal problems of my own.

The first roofer I hired roofed the wrong house.

The second roofer I hired ended up in jail, convicted of criminal theft after he scammed 86 people for $671,000. (Read that story here.) Surely, I had to learn how to protect myself before I could show others how to do it.

So scamming roofers became a pet peeve of mine. (It’s the biggest section in my national-award-winning book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong.)

Over the years, I’ve developed a fondness for the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association. In the absence of a state licensing requirement for Texas roofers, this trade association promotes its own ethics code and pushes hard for honesty in this troubled industry. I even helped them with their video. (Watch here.)

So when the NTRCA told me that Senate Bill 311, sponsored by Sen. John Carona of Dallas, was designed to bring licensing requirements, I cheered!

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong shows you how to protect yourself. The book, now in its third 2013 edition, won two awards for social change.

Senator John Carona (Photo courtesy of Ramparts360.com)

Today, I traveled to Austin to appear before the Texas Senate Business & Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Carona, a Republican. I wanted to testify in favor of his bill, something I could never do as a working journalist. Now I can, though. So I did.

At first, Carona was my hero. He stood tall in the committee room at the State Capitol. He made me proud as he strongly argued in favor of his own Senate Bill 311. He apologized when he took extra time to explain it and a companion bill.

When early witnesses criticized his bill, he staunchly defended it. Forcefully. But then something happened.

After the first hour, he announced that “I hear you” to the bills’ critics and said he would drop the roofer licensing portion. He announced he would settle for roofer registration only, probably at a cost of $100 a year for each Texas roofer. Roofers would register and people could easily track them down if something went wrong through this new state registry. At least that’s something.

But then an hour later, after hearing more testimony, he announced he was dropping the meager registration requirement, too.

Keep in mind that Texas licenses electricians and plumbers, and I never hear complaints about them. But roofers? I hear about roofing scams, especially among the elderly, all the time.

So by the time I got up to testify after more than 2 ½ hours of watching him water down his own bill, I was confused. I testified that, after watching what had happened, I was lowering my standards from licensing to registration, a weaker version of enforcement, but at least something designed to protect Texans from roofing scams. Please at least enact the registration requirement, I implored.

Carona told the packed hearing room, “I’ve lowered my standards just this morning.” The room, filled with dark-suited lobbyists, erupted in laughter.

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber testifies at the State Capitol.

Watchdog Nation founder Dave Lieber testifies at the State Capitol.

Imagine that. The chairman who forcefully pushes his own bill at 8 a.m, waters it down by 9 a.m., then waters it down even more at 10 a.m. Then less than an hour later, it appears, he has given up on enacting the real teeth in his bill almost entirely. And this is his own committee!

Here’s the takeaway. If you are a Texan and you are hoping the 2013 Legislature will enact new laws designed to protect consumers from corporate bullies and individual scammers, think again. This is a Tea Party legislature, perhaps the most conservative legislature in the nation. What that means, to use the language of these legislators, is that they won’t do anything in this session to “increase the footprint of government.”

That means more Texans will get scammed, and their state government does not care.

Final note: I heard a lot of excuses why roofers shouldn’t be regulated like other professions in today’s testimony.

One witness said consumers should be smarter. (Well, it’s kinda complicated to pick a reputable roofer, as I learned.)

Another said that with hundreds of thousands of roofs put on in Texas each year, only a small portion were scammed. (First off, it’s not so small, as my mail indicates. And second, that’s like saying there are a lot of banks but only a few get robbed. Notice that banks still have security measures in place – bars, guards, alarms. And none of that exists in the roofing industry.)

Still another said that any expansion of government in any way is bad for Texas.

The bill isn’t dead yet, but it suffers from severe poisoning. By its own sponsor.

After the hearing, I gave Senator Carona a copy of my book.

God only knows: I hope he reads it.


Catching a roofer who made promises he wouldn’t keep

The woman gave the young man starting a new roofing company an insurance check for $7,600. He never replaced her roof, and when she said she wanted her money back, he told her she was too pushy.

On behalf of customer Debbie Rimerman of Arlington, Watchdog Nation contacted budding businessman Marcus “Mark” Ray Hedlund and asked about Rimerman’s money.

“She’s already been paid.”

Not the expected answer.

“Give her a call, and call me back if there’s a problem,” he said.

I told him that as of two days before, she had not received her money.

“Call her back, buddy.”

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, when I started to speak again, Hedlund said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hey, hey, hey, look. … What you need to do is call her back and make sure she got it. And call me back, and I’ll give you the best story you’ve ever written in your entire life. How about that?”

I called Rimerman. She said she never received a dime.

Hedlund promised her a good roof and me a great story. Clearly, he’s a man who knows how to make promises.

And break them, it seems.

Courtesy of authenticroofwest.com

I called him, e-mailed him and texted him. He went radio silent. But I still found a story: Hedlund is an ex-con with a decade of trouble behind him. Rimerman had no idea. How about that?

Before that call

Rimerman got a recommendation from a friend about Hedlund. He’s 27 and owns MH Custom Roofing.

When Hedlund visited Rimerman, she was torn about whether to hire him. “Instinctively, I had a bad feeling about this guy but figured it was a new business and I would give him a chance.”

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What followed was a cascade of delays and excuses: He went to Colorado to take care of an estate. He got sick. His other roofing jobs got in the way. There were hassles delivering the materials. On and on.

She went to his house in Arlington, where he lives with his parents. Standing at the front door, she recalls, she asked Hedlund, “When are you going to give me my money?”

“Well, the reason I haven’t called is you have been too pushy.”

“Too pushy? You have $7,000 of my money!”

She went back to the house and complained to the young man’s father. Then she complained to the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association because Hedlund’s contract includes the organization’s logo. (He’s not a member.) The association’s executive director, Karen Vermaire Fox, urged her to contact Watchdog Nation.

The roofer called Rimerman and told her that he used her money to get himself out of trouble. He didn’t say what kind of trouble. But he explained that he had a scheduled roof job in Oklahoma and then he would come back and draw up a contract and repay her with interest.

When she didn’t hear from him, she sued in small-claims court.

As for Hedlund’s troubles, when Rimerman checked his name on an Internet search engine, his mug shots popped up.

Hedlund was convicted last year of assault with bodily injury and driving while intoxicated, according to records from the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. Previously, he was on probation after he was found guilty in 2003 of burglary and robbery. Later, that probation was revoked, and he spent two years in prison. He has also pleaded guilty to evading arrest and detention.

Texas doesn’t require a roofer’s license. Fox said, “With a roofing license, he couldn’t operate as a roofer with a criminal record.”

The association’s proposed law for licensing was junked in a 2011 legislative committee. If enough jilted customers complain to lawmakers, the 2013 version of the bill may get more traction, Fox said.

After Rimerman learned of Hedlund’s convictions, she texted him one more time: “I’m sure the prosecuting attorney would love to hear about what you did to me.”

Once again, he didn’t answer.

  After this report appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Tarrant County district attorney’s office made an inquiry. The roofer hired a lawyer and repaid the $7,000.

Hedlund, who has served time in prison for burglary and robbery, says it was a misunderstanding about the cost of materials. He says the publicity was a blessing in disguise because he took the opportunity to restart his roofing business in San Antonio.

This week, one of his sales prospects searched his name on the Internet, found this report column and balked at hiring him.

Hedlund called me, and then he put her on the line. He wanted me to explain that he had repaid the money to the customer. I did, but he lost the sale.

I’m rooting for him. Everybody deserves a second chance. But this happy ending goes to the customer. Rimmerman got a new roof from somebody else. Hedlund left town.

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More Watchdog Nation reports on roofing:

Woman learns lesson about checking a contractor’s background

An indictment for him, and a turning point for me


Watch author Dave Lieber in a roofing video here or below.


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Are you tired of hiring idiot contractors who take the money and run? Hiring a good roofer is included in the author’s popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. The 2012 edition of the book is available at WatchdogNation.com 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. The book won two national book awards for social change.

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