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 âcontractâ 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.
âOur 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!â 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.
âWhen the house was about half done,â Lackey continued, âFines 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.â
After two years, Fines quit with the house unfinished according to Lackey. âEvery time I went to the site he was drinking-- even in the mornings. I had to work often in Dallas and didnât supervise like I should have.â
âIn the end, I paid him $57,000-- $17,000 more than we had originally agreed upon. Did he finish it? NO!â Lackey exclaimed.
âI never told the sheriff [then in office] because I didnât believe he would do anything,â Lackey said. âIt would have cost me more money, and all Iâd have is a piece of worthless paper [judgment] to show for it.â
âI eventually paid someone else $30,000 to finish it.â
âFines called me once and said that a couple wanted to see my house,â Lackey said. âIf I had known that he was claiming to have built it, Iâd have called them and told them not to trust him an ounce!â
More Unfinished Jobs
Over 1Â½ 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
âBobby Fines and I agreed on a price to build me a weekend cabin,â John Word of Denison said. âI should have put it more thoroughly in writing, but I wrote the price on a piece of paper and Fines signed it.
When heâd make a draw [of money] from me, I had him sign. Every time I turned around he wanted more money,â Word added.
âFines set the concrete blocks for the foundation, did a subfloor, and put up about 75% of the walls,â Word said, âthen he upped the price. After he asked for a changed price, he never came back to finish the cabin.â
Afraid To Talk
On February 19, 2007, another person scheduled to be interviewed for this story canceled because they âdid not want revengeâ [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 Farmerâs 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 âaccepted checks for payment of work and refused to return communication attempts with the homehomers.â Brown said, according to Farmer, â...we had a large number of people who were defrauded and a continued pattern of operation.â 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.
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
âPrior to our hiring Fines,â the Egerts said, âwe 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 Â½ hours. The owner was not home during this time.â 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. âLocks have been changed. Thatâs the end of it!â he said.
According to the Egerts, in June 2005 they personally told Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser about Finesâ deceptive securing of $65,000 from them.
When they attempted to file a complaint with the Fannin County Sheriffâs 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. âOur county prosecutors said it was not a criminal matter,â Bassham said recently. (Bassham has since resigned as sheriff after pleading guilty to federal felony charges. He is awaiting sentencing.)
âWhen we called Fines to arrange for arbitration in accordance with our contract,â the Egerts said, âhe would not return our calls, and Leggett (Finesâ partner) constantly hung up on us.â
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 Generalâs 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.
âDelta 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,â the Egerts said.
The Egerts were not prepared for what happened next.
On June 17, 2005, Leggett reported to the Fannin County Sheriffâs Office that Pat had threatened âto inflict imminent bodily injuryâ on her during Patâs very first telephone call that same day.
The Sheriffâs 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 sheriffâs department.
It was six months before there was a warrant for Patâs arrest (Bobâs 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 âadvisedâ the Egerts on October 26, 2006, that they were âcharged by a felony indictment for the [harassment] offense.â
Felony Charge for Harassment
The Assistant DA produced a list of âcrimes and bad actsâ of which the Egerts allegedly were guilty. One of these âcrimes or bad actsâ was that â... the Defendants threatened to and did falsely report the Complainants to the Texas Residential Construction Commission....â --the agency that the Attorney Generalâs Office recommended the Egerts contact.
Before the Egertsâ trial, Glaser requested that the [District] Court order the Egerts to ârefrain from making any direct or indirect reference to their debt allegedly owed by Complainants.â They were not to âtestify to, allude toâ or even âmentionâ 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 Leggettâs 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 Egertsâ calls âaggravatedâ him.
In Grayson County, men were sent to prison for, among other things, ârefusing to return communication attempts by the homeowners.â
But not in Fannin County.
Here âcommunication attemptsâ by homeowners resulted in their being arrested because their calls âaggravatedâ the homebuilders.
âAt least $41,000â
Fines testified under oath that he had indeed taken âat least up to $41,000â of their money. He could not be accurate concerning the amount, he said during the trial, because he kept âno books or recordsâ of any kind.
Reached by phone this week and asked if he had any plans to return the Egerts money, he said, âNo comment.â Asked if he felt he had a moral obligation to return their money, he said, âI donât want to talk about it.â
In Grayson County, men were sent to prison for, among other things, âaccepting checks for payment of workâ 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
âA 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,â 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 âcontinued pattern of operationâ 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, âSex assault cases are what people are upset about.â
First Printed in The Weekly Gazette March 15, 2007