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Sunday, 18 March 2007

Is There Justice for Homeowners in Fannin County?
by S. I. Banister, Special Contributor


Bonham resident Raymond Lackey is a big salt-of-the-earth type of man who drives bulldozers for a living.  He considers his word and handshake a “contract” with a person.  About four years ago, he made such a contract with Bobby Fines, owner of Cedar Log Homes in Ivanhoe, to build him a cedar house.

            Raymond Lackey 
“Our deal was I would pay him $40,000 plus furnish him all the materials.  He would cut enough trees from my property to build my home. He cut enough cedar trees to build several homes, and he sold them.  I went out and counted the stumps!” Lackey said recently.

Every two weeks he wanted a draw [of money].  I paid him $10,000 upfront and paid as he asked. He would sometimes send Vickie Leggett, his partner, to get the money.

“When the house was about half done,” Lackey continued, “Fines ran out of timber and had no money to buy any with. He asked for $17,000 more and said he would finish my house.”

 After two years, Fines quit with the house unfinished according to Lackey. “Every time I went to the site he was drinking-- even in the mornings.  I had to work often in Dallas and didn’t supervise like I should have.”  

“In the end, I paid him $57,000-- $17,000 more than we had originally agreed upon. Did he finish it? NO!” Lackey exclaimed. 
“I never told the sheriff [then in office] because I didn’t believe he would do anything,” Lackey said. “It would have cost me more money, and all I’d have is a piece of worthless paper [judgment] to show for it.”

 “I eventually paid someone else $30,000 to finish it.”

 “Fines called me once and said that a couple wanted to see my house,” Lackey said. “If  I had known that he was claiming to have built it, I’d have called them and told them not to trust him an ounce!”

More Unfinished Jobs

Over 1½ years ago, Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser was made aware of at least one couple who had lost money to Fines. Fines allegedly accepted money in advance from people to build homes or other projects, then left the jobs unfinished while keeping the money.

I contacted several people for this story.  Some would not respond to my questions.  One was afraid of revenge, and some could not be reached.

A Weekend Cabin

“Bobby Fines and I agreed on a price to build me a weekend cabin,” John Word of Denison said.  “I should have put it more thoroughly in writing, but I wrote the price on a piece of paper and Fines signed it. 

When he’d make a draw [of money] from me, I had him sign.  Every time I turned around he wanted more money,” Word added.

“Fines set the concrete blocks for the foundation, did a subfloor, and put up about 75% of the walls,” Word said, “then he upped the price.  After he asked for a changed price, he never came back to finish the cabin.”

Afraid To Talk

On February 19, 2007, another person scheduled to be interviewed for this story canceled because they “did not want revenge” [from Bobby Fines or Vickie Leggett] should their experience be made public.

Guilty in Grayson County

Last year Aaron Lee Liverman and Roger David Liverman of Denison pled guilty to second-degree felony counts of theft and several counts of securing or executing a deceptive document.  According to Mary Jane Farmer’s story in the Herald Democrat, Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown investigated and charged the father-son operators of a construction company with theft. 

Farmer wrote that these men “accepted checks for payment of work and refused to return communication attempts with the homehomers.”  Brown said, according to Farmer, “...we had a large number of people who were defrauded and a continued pattern of operation.”  Seven victims were identified. Both men received a four-year prison sentence on each charge.

Grayson County citizens are safer now.

But not in Fannin County.
Citizens here are still at risk for this sort of thing. 

$65,000 Gone
In December 2004, Bob and Pat Egert of Ben Franklin signed a contract with Bobby Fines and Vickie Leggett of Cedar Log Homes to build a log home and to supply the materials for it.  After the Egerts had an independent contractor build a $50,000 foundation, Fines began working on their home.

According to Pat Egert, two weeks after working on the subfloor a few hours daily-- and after drawing $65,000 from the Egerts-- Fines walked off the job.  Earlier, he had taken logs meant for the house back to his place in Fannin County and refused to return them.


             The $65,000 half-subfloor with mistakes

 “Prior to our hiring Fines,” the Egerts said, “we asked him to show us houses that he had built. One of these was a large, beautiful house in Oklahoma. Fines had a key and took us through a locked gate and into the house, where we walked around for at least 1 ½ hours. The owner was not home during this time.” Later the Egerts discovered that Fines had not built the house.

The real homebuilder, who demanded that his name not be used in this story, refused to talk about the incident. “Locks have been changed.  That’s the end of it!” he said.

According to the Egerts, in June 2005 they personally told Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser about Fines’ deceptive securing of $65,000 from them.

When they attempted to file a complaint with the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff  Kenneth Moore told them he did not have venue in the matter, that the case would have to be investigated where the offense occurred, i.e., in Delta County.

They filed a complaint with Delta County Sheriff Mark Bassham. “Our county prosecutors said it was not a criminal matter,” Bassham said recently. (Bassham has since resigned as sheriff after pleading guilty to federal felony charges.  He is awaiting sentencing.)

“When we called Fines to arrange for arbitration in accordance with our contract,” the Egerts said, “he would not return our calls, and Leggett (Fines’ partner) constantly hung up on us.”

Fines and Leggett refused all communication attempts by the Egerts according to later sworn court testimony.

Because the Egerts had an arbitration clause in their contract, it was their understanding that they could not take legal action until their contract expired. That would be six more months.

In the meantime, Pat called the Texas Attorney General’s Office to see what options she had.  They directed her to the Texas Residential Construction Commission where the Egerts reported their $65,000 loss.

They continued calling Fines and Leggett in an attempt to arrange arbitration or collect their debt.

“Delta County DA Investigator Williams told us we had every right to call on a debt that someone owed us. We asked for and followed debt collection guidelines given to us by a county attorney. We always left our name and phone number and requested Fines or Leggett to call us so we could resolve the issue, but they would never answer the phone or return our calls,” the Egerts said.

The Egerts were not prepared for what happened next.

On June 17, 2005, Leggett reported to the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office that Pat had threatened “to inflict imminent bodily injury” on her during Pat’s very first telephone call that same day.

The Sheriff’s Office forwarded the complaint to the Fannin County DA.  (As of press time, Sheriff Moore could not confirm that any investigation took place prior to forwarding the complaint.)  The Egerts were never contacted by any member of the sheriff’s department.

It was six months before there was a warrant for Pat’s arrest (Bob’s warrant would appear later) for a Terroristic Threat, a Class B misdemeanor.  The district attorney recommended she plead guilty and pay a $1,000 fine.

She refused to plead guilty.

The charge was later changed (with no explanation) to Harassment, also a Class B misdemeanor.  Glaser, however, then “advised” the Egerts on October 26, 2006, that they were “charged by a felony indictment for the [harassment] offense.”   

Felony Charge for Harassment
The Assistant DA produced a list of “crimes and bad acts” of which the Egerts allegedly were guilty. One of these “crimes or bad acts” was that “... the Defendants threatened to and did falsely report the Complainants to the Texas Residential Construction Commission....” --the agency that the Attorney General’s Office recommended the Egerts contact.

Before the Egerts’ trial, Glaser requested that the [District] Court order the Egerts to “refrain from making any direct or indirect reference to their debt allegedly owed by Complainants.”  They were not to “testify to, allude to” or even “mention” why they called in the first place.

Without being allowed to produce evidence such as business letters, which showed the professional manner in which they attempted  to communicate with Fines and Leggett and would have countered much of Leggett’s testimony in court, the Egerts were subsequently found guilty of telephone harassment.

They now had a useless $50,000 foundation, a $65,000 cash loss, and a $10,000 defense lawyer loss.  They could not spend another $10,000 for an appeal.

Fines testified at the trial that the Egerts’ calls “aggravated” him.

In Grayson County, men were sent to prison for, among other things, “refusing to return communication attempts by the homeowners.”

But not in Fannin County.  
Here “communication attempts” by homeowners resulted in their being arrested because their calls “aggravated” the homebuilders.

“At least $41,000”
Fines testified under oath that he had indeed taken “at least up to $41,000” of their money. He could not be accurate concerning the amount, he said during the trial, because he kept “no books or records” of any kind.

Reached by phone this week and asked if he had any plans to return the Egerts money, he said, “No comment.”  Asked if he felt he had a moral obligation to return their money, he said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

In Grayson County, men were sent to prison for, among other things, “accepting checks for payment of work” without doing the work.

But not in Fannin County. 
The admission under oath of taking thousands of dollars in return for virtually no work brought no consequences at all for this homebuilder.

Guilty In Bexar County

“A man [in San Antonio] convicted of scamming dozens of homeowners by... failing to complete home-remodeling jobs has been sentenced to 90 years in prison,” The Paris News reported on November 15, 2006.  In one case the man had been paid $8,000 to remodel a kitchen, only to demolish the kitchen before the work stopped.

Persons with the “continued  pattern of operation” of walking off the job are liable to criminal charges in Bexar County.

But not in Fannin County. 
White collar crimes apparently are not a priority here. Glaser said, “Sex assault cases are what people are upset about.”

First Printed in The Weekly Gazette March 15, 2007


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