The news you don't get can hurt like a______
Greg Mikesell, a local custom homebuilder, got indicted this week on a felony charge of stealing $100,000 from an 81-year-old man. The San Antonio Express-News, anticipating action from the Bexar County District Attorney's office, ran a lengthy Page 1A feature Wednesday. There were a few things the newspaper left out, though. Such as, I was the reporter who wrote that glowing article in 2004, and staff at the newspaper had been aware of problems with Definitive Custom Homes for some time...There was enough information about him lying around for the media to come after him sooner. We should have. As for my part in all this, I am sorry.
The news you don't get can hurt like a______
by Adolfo Pesquera
Greg Mikesell, a local custom homebuilder, got indicted this week on a felony charge of stealing $100,000 from an 81-year-old man.
Greg Mikesell profile from 2004 -- graphic illustration by Adolfo Pesquera
Mikesell, a young and once cocky entrepreneur, failed to build the house he was contracted to provide.
The San Antonio Express-News, anticipating action from the Bexar County District Attorney's office, ran a lengthy Page 1A feature Wednesday
It was reported that Mikesell's company, Definitive Custom Homes, was favorably profiled in the newspaper in 2004. The company at that time had no shortage of homebuyers and subcontractors willing to vouch for its good reputation.
But Mikesell had trouble handling success. It looks like he diverted money that should have been dedicated to numerous company projects. Instead, he partied hearty.
It is going to be awhile before he gets over his Las Vegas hangover, and a lengthy jail sentence might be required.
There were a few things the newspaper left out, though. Such as, I was the reporter who wrote that glowing article in 2004, and staff at the newspaper had been aware of problems with Definitive Custom Homes for some time.
I only raise those points now because it was always problematic choosing to do business profiles on homebuilders.
When I held the Real Estate Beat, profiling homebuilders came with the turf. But taking a risk on filing positive stories about homebuilders was one of the less savory chores on my plate.
Let me emphasize that not all homebuilders are bad. I found many who did good work.
But they operate in an industry that had over the past few decades become too successful at insulating itself from liability.
The 1990s and the age of implied liability (read worthless warranties) gave way to the dawn of the Texas Residential Construction Commission, an agency designed from the start to make it even more impossible for homebuyers to deal with disreputable contractors.
Bad apples found safe harbour amongst the good in an industry that welcomed anybody, did next to nothing to police itself, and has been very good at pulling the teeth out of any potential regulators.
Every time I profiled a homebuilder, I did so with a sense of unease. I worked to vet them, reviewing their histories and getting third-party testimonials. But I knew that each story could come back to haunt me.
Fortunately, few of them did. But Mikesell was the downside. More than a year ago, one of his customers called me.
He had been cheated. He knew of others in the same situation. He was angry almost as much at me as at Mikesell.
"You wrote this glowing story on this young man. He uses that in his marketing. You led me to believe I could trust him," he said.
Not to be cold-hearted, but I was not on the Real Estate Beat by then. I forwarded his complaint to the people who were.
Why the media did not out Mikesell sooner, I cannot say. I do not have the facts.
If I am to speculate - and here I go - it has long been my experience in these matters that editors are reluctant to accuse business people of criminal wrong-doing unless they have the cover of a public record. And by that I mean the editor's reasoning goes like this:
Once a law enforcement entity tells us this one's out of line, then we'll say what they said.
I can see where Mikesell's victims would be critical of the media's snail's pace. There was enough information about him lying around for the media to come after him sooner.
We should have. As for my part in all this, I am sorry.
HomeOwners for Better Building (HOBB.org) Comment:
Most people understand the reason newspapers have been pressured for years to write glowing articles about the building industry. Over the many years we have been overjoyed with the excellent articles the Express-News allowed you and others to write about human interest bad building tragedies or the corruption of the TRCC.
The fact is
Texas is the only state in the nation that has made it impossible to find out the truth about the unregulated building industry. It is well know that TRCC state agency was created to shield bad builders like Greg Mikesell from the home buying public and the media. I hear your frustration at having had to write about any builders in
Texas, especially after the most recent article about Greg Mikesells fraudulent activities over the years.
When I read the article I immediately checked the official TRCC website but could find nothing about Mikesells past bad behavior. I then called TRCC to simply ask if the agency had taken any action against Mikesell. The response was that I needed to submit an official Open Records Request.
The fact is no one at TRCC including legal counsel or the Director is concerned about the publics right to know. They in collusion with the Texas Association of Builders (TAB) want to make it difficult for anyone, new buyers or consumer advocates to find information on any builder.
Understand the TRCC has been abolished the budget this year is $10M through 2010, it will remain in operation yet no one will be laid off, so its the same uncaring staff and employees that will continue its devil-may-care attitude and builder protection by making it impossible for the public to know. Think of how many Greg Mikesells that will flourish on the backs of new homebuyers.
Janet Ahmad, president