Worst San Antonio Contractors of 2011
Blinds Depot/Budget Blinds | San Antonio
At press time, former business owner Larry Berry remained in the Bexar County jail, awaiting a decision from the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals on his appeal of two felony convictions and a 10-year prison sentence for swindling homeowners out of thousands of dollars.
Court documents say Berry opened Blinds Depot, a door-to-door operation with only a mail drop-box, after he filed for bankruptcy in 2005 and closed his Budget Blinds franchise on San Pedro Avenue. While operating both companies, he took large deposits from customers who paid for blinds and shutters, but never delivered the materials or installed the shutters.
A 175th Judicial District Court state judge sentenced Berry in November 2010 after a jury convicted him of felony theft and felony misapplication by a fiduciary of $20,000 to $100,000 and ordered him to pay $78,733 in restitution to more than 40 former customers.
One of those customers, Kristina Benca of San Antonio, says Berry offered her a "special" deal to pay nearly $1,300 to install blinds in her entire home if she paid for it all in advance - but he never delivered or installed anything.
"He's a con artist, plus 10," she says, adding that the lesson she learned is to not pay in full upfront. "Pay your 10 percent deposit and wait for your product."
Also testifying in Berry's trial, San Antonio retiree Dee Chandler, 62, says she paid nearly $9,000 for plantation shutters and never received them. "He was very personable and had a great presentation," she says. "But he turned out to be a thief. I'm glad he's not out there cheating someone else."
The Texas attorney general also won a default judgment against Berry, requiring him to pay $240,000 in civil penalties for violating the Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act and more than $22,000 in restitution to customers.
As of press time, Berry had paid no restitution, according to the AG's office. His attorney, Raymond Vale, didn't return calls seeking comment. A notice on his AL company profile alerts members to his felony convictions and the $262,000 judgment.
Care Construction Services | Helotes, Texas
A Bexar County District Court judge sentenced Care Construction owner Bruce Merryman to 16 years in prison in June after a jury convicted him of six felony counts of theft and misappropriation of funds. He's accused of taking payments but doing little to no work for two homeowners and an elderly couple who wanted to open their own hair salon.
Merryman, who was ordered to pay $68,000 in restitution to the four victims, filed an appeal in July with the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals. Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Joanne Woodruff says Merryman missed his own verdict in the county court, as he fled during a lunch break prior to closing arguments the day before.
Authorities found Merryman four days later at a hospital east of Austin, where he was receiving treatment for dehydration. He currently resides in the Willacy County State Jail. A notice on his AL company profile alerts members to his felony convictions.
One of Merryman's victims, Lois Morgado, 61, of San Antonio, hired him to build an addition onto her home. After paying him $24,000, she says she put away her checkbook when he demanded more money, despite only completing demolition.
At that point, his attitude changed. "He hollered and talked ugly to me," Morgado says. "It was very intimidating." Even though she doesn't think she'll ever receive restitution, she wants to send a warning to all contractors: "You can go to jail and do prison time if you take someone's money and don't do the work!""
Woodruff cautions consumers to beware of contractors who ask for advance payments, especially large ones. "We tell people not to give contractors money upfront," she says. "If the contractor can't take care of some materials, they may not be reputable."
Merryman previously operated BRM Builders in Jenison, Mich., but the state revoked his license in 2007 for rule violations, according to state records. Woodruff says Merryman lied about his license revocation to the former Texas Residential Construction Commission. He is not currently licensed as a San Antonio home improvement contractor.
Merryman's attorney, Britt Eastland, did not return messages.
Brent Beicker Enterprises | Seguin, Texas
When member Jonna Davidson of Canyon Lake hired Brent Beicker in May for a home improvement project, she never imagined it ending so poorly. Davidson says Beicker lied frequently, and his crew did shoddy work.
"He's as smooth as can be, but he doesn't have a clue on how to run a business," says Davidson, whose complaint landed Beicker in the Penalty Box. A notice on his AL company profile alerts members. The F-rated company has three reports.
Beicker, who doesn't hold a required San Antonio home improvement contractor's license, according to city records, is also named as a co-defendant in a Bexar County civil case filed by San Antonio homeowners Tom and Roslyn Higginbotham, who seek more than $7,000 in restitution for a shoddy and incomplete bathroom remodel.
Neither Beicker nor his attorneys returned messages.
Texas Moving Services/TMS Trans National Moving Service | Kaufman, Texas
Cedar Park resident Melissa Conkling says she felt backed into a corner when Texas Moving Services brokered her family's move from Tyler, but charged her $1,800 over the original $3,679 estimate and damaged several items. "It was by far the worst move I've ever had," she says.
After the U.S. Department of Transportation fined TMS $25,000 last year to settle at least three customers' complaints, manager John Roberts says TMS no longer brokers moves and only performs jobs with its own employees and trucks. "You won't see any more complaints from this company unless it's against our movers," he says.
TMS, whose owner, Emily Grubbs, is also listed as owner of Nationwide Moving Services and Trans National Moving Service, has an F on the List with four reports. The company also received sanctions from state and federal licensing regulators in 2011 after allowing its insurance to expire.
- by Nick McLain and Meranda Watling