Fake Texas contractors admit they stole $ 850,000 from customers. This time someone cared. Hi FBI.

One of the riskiest acts a Texan can do is to hire a home remodeling contractor. They don’t have a license, they don’t have to take continuing education classes, or they have to show that they know what they’re doing.

Some contractors who take advantage of this are, frankly, bad.

Here is the story of SK. (I don’t know the identity of SK or other victims of a particular criminal company because a grand jury indictment in the case only identifies victims by initials).

Four years ago, SK logged into HomeAdvisor, a website that helps find worthy contractors.

HomeAdvisor recommended a company, WJL Home Remodel. SK reviewed the WJL company website and found positive testimonials and photographs of the finished work.

According to the indictment, SK spoke with Whitney Jane Law, the company’s owner. They signed a contract and Law partner Tommy Ray Williams applied for and received an initial check for $ 22,000.

A crew entered and demolished the family room, the roof and the garage.

Williams asked for another $ 10,000 and got it. Then the crew disappeared.

SK checked if city permits had been filed, a requirement, but they had not. Williams said no permits were needed. He was wrong. But he was left with the money, according to court records.

Others would do the same thing: log in to HomeAdvisor, enter their name, phone number, address, and email, and explain the type of job they wanted.

BL found the pair through HomeAdvisor. Williams lied to her and said her company had been doing business for many years, when in reality it was only a few months, according to court papers.

BL gave Williams $ 52,000, though the crew ripped off part of the roof and destroyed other parts of the house. Williams threatened to put a lien on BL’s house if she didn’t give him more money. BL lost all that money, in addition to spending another $ 60,000 with a different contractor to finish the job, according to the indictment.

According to prosecutors, the game plan was as follows: a crew would enter and destroy key parts of the house: plumbing, floors, rock, walls or ceilings. Williams asked for more money, sometimes he got it and the crew disappeared forever. In at least one case, Williams physically threatened a landlord, prosecutors said.

PC hired the couple, but lived elsewhere and could not see the work. The house was gutted with most of the walls removed, exposing it to the weather. The cut trees were on the estate.

When HomeAdvisor deleted their account in 2017 due to complaints, Law and Williams got someone to open a new account with a different name.

This scheme worked exceptionally well. The couple stole $ 850,000 from 18 homeowners, according to a guilty plea signed by Williams in which he confessed to his crimes and those of Law.

With that money, the couple bought cars, spent heavy time at casinos and upgraded a vehicle off-road Polaris, prosecutors accused.

What makes this story different is that a group is unknown for having pursued the involvement of dishonest contractors.

The FBI.

This month, Law and Williams pleaded guilty to a felony of cable fraud. They are awaiting conviction for a felony for which the maximum sentence is 20 years in prison and a $ 250,000 fine.

I tried to reach the couple but I couldn’t. Lawyers for the case also did not respond to The Watchdog’s inquiry. But court records tell the story.

HomeAdvisor spokeswoman Alaina Merrill told me, “We take the quality of the professionals in our network very seriously and are committed to providing a positive experience for our clients.”

He added: “These professionals were removed from our network in 2017 after receiving complaints from customers. Let me know if you have read anything to suggest otherwise.”

He sent me details of the company selection process. HomeAdvisor, now owned by Angi, formerly Angie’s List, conducts criminal background checks on business owners.

HomeAdvisor also says it checks licenses, but remember: there is no Texas license for remodelers, home builders or roofers.

What illustrates this case is the ease with which this crime is in Texas. Hundreds more do the same across the state, but these crimes often slip through the cracks.

How easy? At the Dallas County Secretary’s office, the couple presented a certificate of ownership of a company not incorporated, also known as an assumed name or DBA for “doing business as.”

They opened several bank accounts, created a website, and used Square to accept credit cards to pay. When there were complaints, they changed the name of the company. When they were fired from HomeAdvisor, they got the replacement to sign them up.

Without a state-required license, there are few checks and balances, but it is supposed to be a benchmark company that provides contacts like HomeAdvisor.

Square, who took on credit charges for the couple, recovered some of the money from the victims, but when the couple fled Square, Square lost $ 95,000.

What is the solution?

Here are several Watchdog Nation strategies for finding an honest and expert contractor:

When interviewing a prospect, ask for a look at your driver’s license. Copy the information. Explain that you will do a background check. If they say no, red flag!

Do an extensive web search on the owners of the business and the name of the business.

Ask for the names and contact information of projects that have been completed in recent months. Contact clients for references and, if possible, look at the work.

Learn all you can about them. In this case related to Law and Williams, one of the red flags was Williams’ bankruptcy (but that would be hard to find for an owner). The best clue here is that the company was a few months old and had no background.

If you use a service like HomeAdvisor or Angi, don’t trust it with all your faith. Follow the protection tips above anyway.

The case of the strong contractors was handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office and FBI agents in the East Texas district.  Here, on the left, Sherman’s Paul Brown Federal Building.
The case of the strong contractors was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI agents in the East Texas district. Here, on the left, Sherman’s Paul Brown Federal Building.(Ashley Landis / Staff Photographer)

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