As frauds go, the paving scam ranks among the oldest and best-known, a racket dating to the wool-capped grifters of the Great Depression.
It works like this: A guy shows up with an asphalt truck, explaining that he’s got an extra load he wants to spread for cheap right now, no contract required. He almost always picks an elderly victim, and once he’s finished, he angrily demands 10 times the price.
That’s the scheme that played out at Ann Leonard’s house outside Chapel Hill, with one important variation:
These con men picked on a 16-year-old.
“This was very emotionally upsetting to me,” said Leonard, 59. “It’s like coming home and finding out your house has been painted purple.”
The teen in question was home alone when the gang of questionable pavers arrived, and when one of them laid the line on him about extra gravel for the gravel driveway, he gave a typical teenager shrug.
When Leonard’s son returned from school, his mother still at work, he found the 300-foot driveway paved from end to end. Not extra gravel thrown down. Paved.
“He calls me in a panic,” Leonard said. “ ‘Mom, I think I really screwed up.’ ”
Leonard, a widow, processed this all from work. No. 1 son passed the phone to one of the guys in the crew, who explained he wanted $6,000 for a job well-done. “He told us to pave it,” the scammer insisted.
“He’s 16!” Mother replied.
“He looks older,” scammer said. “And he told us he owned the house.”
“I don’t know who you are!”
Leonard called her husband’s cousin, who raced over. When the pavers wouldn’t talk to him, he called an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, and the back-and-forth began.
They had no sign on their truck. They had no business card. They had no contract. But they agreed to take the asphalt away for $1,000. It was only a base layer, and it smelled terrible, so Leonard agreed, hoping to get the pavers out of her life.
But rather than restore the old driveway, they dug up the entire thing and left two huge piles of asphalt blocking the way. This they refused to touch without a contract for $1,000.
At this point, Leonard got a lawyer and contacted the Attorney General’s office, where the mess eventually got sorted out. In the end, the company in question had to reimburse Leonard for the $2,400 it cost her to rebuild.
Fake paving bargains are “at least as old as asphalt,” said David Kirkman, deputy attorney general in the Consumer Protection Division. But, he added, “I’ve never had one where a 16-year-old boy was approached.”
By law, you’ve got to present a written contract with a three-day window for cancellations, neither of which were offered here.
Leonard didn’t want to name the pavers in question, and Kirkman said he’s never dealt with them before.
But for the record, here is a rogues’ gallery of paving scammers, included here as a warning to our friends who negotiate $6,000 jobs with kids home alone.
Tommy Clack: Sentenced to 66 months in federal prison for tax and fraud crimes stemming from his fly-by-night paving business, which ran from Maryland to Florida. He continued to operate even after the N.C. attorney general’s office won a court order permanently banning him in the state. A Lillington woman of 75, promised a good deal for her driveway, paid $8,500.
Jimmy Stevens: Ordered by the Attorney General last year to stop paving driveways after his Hillsborough business, which operated under a variety of names, racked up numerous complaints from seniors over inferior work done with offers of deep discounts. His strategy, according to the AG: telling customers not to drive on their new pavement for three days, giving it time to harden, during which time he takes a powder.
My house got burglarized last week, so I’m not feeling especially charitable toward these folks. But I’ve got an idea for punishing scammers of this sort in the future:
Have them repave I-440. One lane at a time. For free.