State and local agencies are investigating complaints that a man who markets home energy savings disguised sales pitches as free utility audits and used contractors' license numbers without their knowledge.
One customer said the man, David Beers, also used a maze of business enterprises that hampered efforts to hold him accountable for problems with his work.
"We had no idea who was who, or if we were really dealing with a licensed and insured company for real," said Balinda Gonser, a Seminole homeowner who ordered $5,800 in energy-saving improvements but backed out because of poor workmanship.
One practice under scrutiny by the Attorney General's Office was the use of advertising fliers bearing the logos of NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy, said Glen D. Upchurch Jr., whose solar energy company used Beers for sales and marketing work.
In interviews with News Channel 8, Beers said his business is to work with struggling construction contractors to sell energy-saving products. He boasted of a perfect track record with customers.
"We've had no complaints," Beers said.
What about Gonser?
The Seminole woman is concerned about more than accountability and poor workmanship. She said Beers' employee, when he first came knocking at their door, led her husband to believe he was with Progress Energy, the local utility.
"She didn't pay a dime," Beers replied. "How could somebody like that be upset?"
Palm Harbor resident Kathleen Mahoney also filed a state complaint about a salesman with a Beers company. Mahoney said the salesman came to her door, offered a "Progress Energy" home evaluation free, and when told she already had one done, replied that the evaluation should be conducted every year.
The state issued Beers a cease and desist order this week after construction contractor Mike Parham complained that Beers used Parham's license number and Largo address in his own advertising.
Parham filed the complaint with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation after learning from News Channel 8 that the license number appeared on two of Beers' websites.
"I have no idea what he's doing under my license or my reputation," Parham said.
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Beers also reached a cease and desist agreement with the state in 1996, over allegations of unlicensed, shoddy work on a home screen enclosure.
Beers doesn't have a state or local construction contractor's license.
Another contractor, Carl Taylor of Pasco County, also criticized Beers for linking their two businesses in work done on the Gonser home.
"It's not good, it's very upsetting and this issue's going to be dealt with immediately," said Taylor, owner of Preferred Mechanical LLC, a heating and air conditioning company.
Here's the sequence of events Gonser described:
A door-to-door canvasser came to her home with a flier, saying he worked for Florida Energy Management, a Beers company.
The next visit was from salesman Kevin Connon, who pitched energy-saving products and presented an Advance Solar Construction business card.
Then Connon signed a work contract with Gonser under the name and state license number of Preferred Mechanical LLC, Taylor's company.
All the while, Connon actually worked for another Beers company, Guardian Solar and Energy LLC, a name that didn't appear on any paperwork.
Connon couldn't be reached for comment.
Taylor said his company did connect a heat recovery system to Gonser's hot water heater but he said he knew nothing of other energy saving work listed in the Gonser contract – installing solar film and attic insulation.
Workers sent to the Gonser home failed to finish installing a barrier in her attic and left bubbles the size of quarters in solar film placed on her sliding-glass doors.
"It was all very confusing," Gonser said.
"Every time I called with a problem or a scheduling issue or the quality of workmanship, David Beers was the one that always answered the phone."
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Taylor said he gave Beers permission to market only his air conditioning services.
On the Gonser job, Taylor said, he was surprised to learn about the solar products and services added to his company's contract form since Taylor is not licensed to do that work.
According to the Attorney General's website, investigators are looking into "potential deceptive and unfair practices" by Beers individually and by his company, Florida Energy Management.
One issue under investigation is Beers' use of companies with sound-alike names.
Through his marketing operation, Beers sent business to a contracting company called Guardian Solar LLC and its owner, Glen Upchurch.
Beers also created a company with a similar name, Guardian Solar and Energy LLC, to do marketing work for at least three other local contracting companies.
Websites and fliers soliciting work for these contractors list their license numbers alongside Beers' office address and phone number. These solicitations do not mention the name of the Beers company that owns the websites and hires canvassers.
Two of the websites Beers created – textcoteflorida.com and windowdepo.com – list his marketing company's address and phone number along with the contractor license number of Mike Parham.
In an interview, Parham said, "It's somebody that's taking my reputation and my license and all that hard work and just going to work the next day because they had my license number."
Beers did design some remodeling jobs for him years ago, Parham said, but products and services advertised by Beers as recently as late April – using Parham's license number – were never part of any deal, Parham said.
Beers disagreed, saying Parham was well aware of the moves he made.
Beers said he put Parham's license number on the websites only after a series of meetings between the two about going into business together.
"He's not telling the truth," Beers said. "I don't want to throw him under the bus, but that's not factual."
Besides, Beers said, Parham has nothing to complain about because the websites are inactive and never resulted in any sales.
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Parham said he didn't know about the websites until News Channel 8 contacted him.
"I don't even know what Texcote is," he said.
The day after Beers spoke with a reporter, the two websites were taken down.
But another website operated by Beers still advertises products and services by listing Beers' Largo office address and phone number with the license number of yet another contractor, Advance Solar Construction LLC of Riverview.
The Beers website, advancesolarfl.com, has an address similar to the contractor's website, advancesolarflorida.com.
The owner of Advance Solar Construction, Chris Solecki, said he told Beers to stop using his license number "a while ago" and was surprised to hear it was still in use.
Taking down websites doesn't erase an offense, said Rod Fischer, executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.
"Advertising as a contractor and using somebody else's license without permission is a crime," Fischer said. "And whether it's an active website or an inactive website, it's still advertising."
Beers said in a telephone interview that he can't understand why so many contractors are turning on him after he brought them business.
"They're just scared to death of you guys," Beers told a News Channel 8 reporter. "That's all I can figure out."