MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A Georgia-based pavement business with deceptive vehicle markings is going door-to-door with a Fayette County business tax license to solicit Tennessee customers.
With a decal on his white pickup truck that reads "Dept. of Road Maintenance" and a license plate from Bartow County, Georgia, Jack Harrison or members of his crew have been soliciting homeowners on country driveways in both Fayette and Shelby County. Consumers who have either complained to or contacted the WMC Action News 5 Investigators all tell the same story when they describe Harrison's or his crew's sales pitch.
"This fella came in off the street, uninvited" said Linda Walsh of Williston, Tennessee.
"They just drove in the driveway," said an Oakland, Tennessee, consumer who asked that we not use her name. "With that road department seal on their vehicle."
"Like it was a state vehicle," said Ron Wickens of Arlington, Tennessee.
According to a Fayette County business tax license Harrison and his crew show consumers, it's a fleet vehicle of J & H Road Maintenance, a private paving company out of Ackworth, Georgia. But Walsh, Wickens and the woman who requested anonymity said the men driving the vehicle make it sound like they represent something else.
"They said they were with the local road department," said Walsh. "I asked, 'Are you licensed?' He said, 'Yes, we have a Fayette County business license.' He flashed it."
"They said they were with the road department," said the anonymous consumer. "They said, 'We have excess, we're working on such-and-such a road, and we have some left over and it's your lucky day."
That consumer and her housemate decided to hire the company to work on their driveway. They said they understood the crew was going to pave and seal the driveway. Instead, they got a loose, haphazard pouring of gravel. They said the job took two hours. Bank records revealed they paid Harrison's outfit $9,000. "Isn't that sad?" asked the consumer. "So I'm just feeling really dumb and vulnerable and foolish."
"I told them under no uncertain terms should they ever darken our doorstep again," said Walsh, who did not hire them.
Fayette County Clerk Sue Culver confirmed the business tax license Harrison's outfit is showing consumers is legitimate. She said Harrison ordered it through the mail. She acknowledged that the only check her office ran on the company was the $15 one Harrison wrote for the license.
When we asked her why her office doesn't vet the people or businesses who apply for a county business license, she replied, "I would like to point out on that license, if you look right below that date, you'll see a disclaimer. It says, 'This license does not permit operation unless properly zoned, and/or in compliance with all other applicable laws or rules.' So it's up to them to be sure that they have covered all their bases."
That's the problem. They're aren't many bases this Georgia business has to cover. Tennessee does not require a contractor's license for gravel or paving work, regardless of the job's cost, and it does not restrict anyone from any state from obtaining a Tennessee county business license.
When we told Culver it appears the company is using its county business license to confuse Tennessee consumers, she answered, "I would agree with that. They are doing that."
"He did a good job for me," Wickens said. He said in spite of Harrison's drive-up-the-driveway solicitation, he hired the business to spread tar and gravel the entire 1-mile driveway of his Arlington farm. Shoots of grass sprout through parts of the mixture, yet Wickens insisted he's satisfied with the work. He paid Harrison $37,000.
"I'm $37,000 worth of happy with the work," said Wickens. "Very happy with it."
Acting on a tip, we discovered Harrison and his crew had been staying at a Cordova, Tennessee, hotel on Germantown Parkway. We ran surveillance on the crew and attempted to follow the truck to a work site, but lost it in traffic. After we posted on Facebook that we were investigating his solicitations, Harrison reached out to us. He insisted his company is on the up-and-up.
We told him about the consumer who paid him $9,000 for what she considered to be unsatisfactory work. "It was an honest mistake," he said. "I will send her a check in the mail. She'll get a free job. We're willing to straighten it out. If they're not happy with the job, I'll give them the money back."
Days later, the check showed up at the consumer's Oakland home. "Because of your help with it and investigating it," she said.
Even though J & H Road Maintenance has a legitimate county business license, Tennessee county clerks have the authority to deny the renewal of those licenses if they suspect a deceptive business practice. Culver said she would consider that if more Tennessee citizens complain about these "department of road maintenance" drive-bys.
ANDY'S SUGGESTIONS ON DEALING WITH PAVING/ASPHALT/GRAVEL SERVICES:
* Never accept an unsolicited door-to-door sales pitch, especially if the sales person is driving an out-of-state vehicle. Door-to-door solicitations often use high pressure sales tactics. They are no longer a safe way to solicit business, either for the consumer or for the salesperson. There's no guarantee of safety for either one.
* Check its Better Business Bureau service history.
* Demand references from customers in your area. Do not accept references from out-of-state customers if the business cannot supply local references. They may be friends, family or employees writing fake positive reviews.
* Get estimates from multiple, reputable local service companies with verifiable BBB records and credentials.