Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Long Running Scam Comes to an End

Ten years ago to the month, Harris Poulikidis was sued by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon for defrauding homeowners.  He apparently did not learn his lesson as the following press release was issued by the Dept. of Justice on March 16.  Poulikidis now faces ten years in prison without parole.



For Immediate Release
March 16, 2010 United States Attorney's Office
Western District of Missouri
Contact: (816) 426-3122




Overland Park Man Pleads Guilty in Fraud Scheme

KANSAS CITY, MO—Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that an Overland Park, Kan., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to actions taken as part of a bank fraud scheme that forced several low-income homeowners into bankruptcy by saddling them with more debt than they were able to repay.

Harris Poulikidis, 62, of Overland Park, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith this morning to causing an individual to travel across state lines as part of a fraud scheme.

Poulikidis admitted that he caused a homeowner to obtain a $61,500 loan from Fremont Investment and Loan to refinance a mortgage and to provide approximately $19,350 in home improvements by Poulikidis’ company, Roofing & Siding Plus. On the same day, Poulikidis caused the homeowner to obtain a second mortgage, a $9,000 loan from his company. The second mortgage was later sold to another financial company.

Poulikidis assured the homeowner that her new payments under the re-financing would be no more than, or less than, what she was paying previously. In reality, however, the monthly payments increased so much that the homeowner could not afford them and filed for bankruptcy.
The loan application for the first mortgage did not disclose the second mortgage loan being sought from the homeowner. Fremont Investment and Loan would not have made the loan had it known of the second mortgage.

Under federal statutes, Poulikidis is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution to six homeowners. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Daniel Stewart. It was investigated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Welcome, New KC BBB Board Members!

The Kansas City Better Business Bureau Board is made of valued members from our local business community.  Every year, we welcome new members to our board.  This January, we rotated in six new members.  They are:

Anthony Brungardt
Sales Manager of Critter Control/Eco-Wise Pest Management & Insulation

Brungardt is a family man who's eager to learn anything about everything., but if he were to pick one passion, it would be the restoration of old cars.  He grew up on an Abilene, KS hog and grain farm before making his way to Colorado where he started Pure Bred Brangus/Angus Ranch in 1991. In the 2000s, he changed careers to an auto industry manager and then a general contractor.  He has been the sales manager for Critter Control/Eco-Wise since 2008.




Curtis Bramble
Vice President, General Manager, Part-Owner of Dry Basement

Curtis has been in the concrete and masonry business for more than thirty years.  He joined the Dry Basement team in 1998 and won employee of the year in 2002.  He became the Vice President, General Manager and Part-Owner of Dry Basement in 2008, positions that allow him to focus on quality control and customer satisfaction.

Dry Basement has been a BBB Accredited Business since since 1975



Pam Billings
Co-Owner of Homecare Suppliers, LLC

Billings has called the Kansas City area her home for the past 25 years. She is married to Raymore police Sergeant David Billings and has two children, twelve and nine.  Before she and her husband started Homecare Suppliers in 2005, she spent ten years in human resources and recruitment.

Homecare Suppliers is a home-based medical supply company which provides equipment to local and international customers.  The company was featured in a February 2009 Homecare Magazine article and has earned a 99% Senior Approved rating for customer satisfaction in a 2007 survey.

Jason Gordon
General Sales Manager for McCarthy Nissan, Inc.

Gordon has been a loyal salesperson for McCarthy Olathe-Nissan since joining their staff in 2003.  He quickly rose through the ranks to become the General Sales Manager in 2009.  He is valued for ensuring customer retention and profitability by recruiting qualified sales personnel, assuming responsibility for appraising, purchasing, reconditioning, displaying, and merchandising the new and used vehicle inventory.






Martin Price
Chief Executive Officer for Celsius Tannery


With over 35 years of accounting experience, Price has honed his expertise in business practices and other areas.  He has worked in the private sector as a CFO and CEO for multi-state, multi-location entities, leading to rapid expansion, business consolidations and market share growth.  He is a seminar speaker and writer on such topics as crisis management, business planning, and financial planning.






George Werner
Co-owner and Chief Financial Officer of Wholehouse Flooring Inc.


Werner gathered extensive financial experience from his 31 years at Sprint before onto Wholehouse Flooring.  He has been married for 32 years and has two sons, Neil and Grant and one grandson, Graham, age 2.  A few of Werner's favorite things include cars, snow skiing, and his grandson.




Not pictured:

Brittany Fugate
Co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Cenetric, Inc.

Fugate was a network engineer for both Sprint and Commerce Bank, as well as a client relations manager for Fidelity National Financial.  Her strong customer relations and managerial skills and technical savvy led her business partner to believe she was the right person to head the company's day to day operation. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wise Steps One Accredited Charity is Taking to Weather this Economy

Hope House, a local BBB Accredited Charity, is taking unique steps to diversify its funding sources in a down economy. Hope House provides essential services to women and families facing domestic violence and much of its funding has traditionally come from state grants. States, unfortunately, are feeling the brunt of this economic downturn with a decrease in tax revenues and funding for essential services - like help for victims of domestic violence - is being cut by many states. Hope House has developed new revenue sources through innovative business partnerships. Read about those here.

Our nonprofit sector, being the creative and innovative 'third sector' it has always been, is finding ways of using this downturn to grow stronger. If you know of other ways that charities are succeeding in our economy, I would love to hear about them in the comments section.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Will More States Try to Collect Sales Tax from Online Purchases?

We all know that this economy has been tough on states. In fact, if you know someone who works for a state, give them a hug. They probably need one. Unlike the federal government, states can't deficit spend or print their own money. So when their revenues are down, they cut expenditures (often services) and try to find new sources of revenue. Not surprisingly, some states have looked at ways of taxing online purchases.

I love shopping online. I don't have to get in my car and drive someplace, I can shop in my pajamas and slippers, I can read reviews and find exactly what I need without spending hours schlepping myself to half a dozen stores, and I can usually find a good deal. A bonus to me is that often when I purchase a book for myself or a new shirt for my husband, I don't have to pay sales tax at the time of purchase (although Kansas does ask that I pay taxes on such purchases when I file every year). I love that. To me, it justifies the expense of shipping, especially because in my neck of Kansas I pay more than 7% in sales tax when I get in my car and drive someplace to shop.

But I realize that this sales-tax-avoiding (or delaying) perk might be coming to an end. Read here what Colorado, our great neighbor along I-70, is trying to do. With states having to cut spending on essential services like education, transportation, and social services, I can't really say that I blame them. What do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thrift is a Responsible Choice

We're getting ready to welcome our third child. Our entire family is eagerly anticipating the new little one who will undoubtedly have us wrapped around his or her little finger from the moment that first cry is uttered. Not yet born, our baby is well-loved.

While we tend not to think of our children in financial terms - if we thought too hard about their impact on our wallet, I don't know that many of us would ever have kids - part of our preparation for this upcoming birth has been with our budget. Along with our bundle of joy will come the expenses of diapers, clothing, childcare, doctors visits . . . not to mention a future college education. My husband and I have looked real hard at where we can save money and reduce expenses. We've cut back on eating out and we didn't take any trips this year. While eating good, healthy food is a priority for us, we've found cheaper ways to acquire it through co-ops and by stocking up when our local organic grocer puts a favorite food on sale. While I've never been one for name-brand children's clothing (regardless of what I buy them, my boys' favorite shirts will still be the stained, slightly too-small ones I've tried unsuccessfully to covertly toss in the rag bin), I have found that 'store brand' clothing bought on clearance at the big box retailers is often cheaper than shopping thrift stores. The result of this sacrifice and thriftiness is that we've built up our savings a bit to cushion the new little one's impact and we feel ready to tackle the financial demands of family of five.

This post from the blog Get Rich Slowly speaks to the value of a thrifty lifestyle. It doesn't mean cutting back on what's important to you, it means reducing expenses on the unimportant. It is a responsible choice.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Checklist for Worried Parents

I have two young sons and I am often grateful that we live within minutes of a major children's medical center. Being fairly laid-back parents, the only big rule my husband and I have in our house is simply "no trips to Children's Mercy." My kids have learned how much this rule encompasses. For example, it requires that they wear their bike helmets even when just riding around our driveway and that they limit their experiments in zero gravity to jumping from the third step up from the basement and not the ninth. I don't really care if they leave their toys out or if they don't finish all their dinner, I just don't want anyone getting a concussion. While we've had a few minor bumps and bruises, and one case of a dislocated elbow, this rule has helped us avoid major injury and dismemberment.

One thing I worry about is that our house rule doesn't really help my kids avoid major illnesses. We wash our hands, but I often wonder when a fever is something serious and when it's just the immune system just doing it's job well. Or if that recurring cough could be a sign of pneumonia. Our friends at Consumer Reports have come up with a list for worried parents that will help me, and hopefully you, too, know when a kid needs to see a doctor ASAP.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Accredited Business News - Small Time Service and Repair

We at the BBB like to brag about what's going on with our accredited businesses. To this end, I'm so pleased to write about and announce that Small Time Service and Repair, an aftermarket motorcycle accessories store AND Commercial and Residential HVAC and refrigeration service company, is hosting a free business networking and and open house event at their new location.

Here are the details:

Date and time: Thursday, March 11th from 4:30 - 8:30

Location: 9920 NW 45 HWY, Parkville, MO 64152 (in front of Good Times Carstar)

Join them for free food, specials on merchandise, music and prizes. Bring your business cards and build your network.

To RSVP to this event call (816.651.1960) or email (smalltimeservice@yahoo.com)

Join Small Time Service and Repair for a great time!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Accredited Businesses - We want to hear from you!

At the BBB, we know that our accredited businesses are doing dynamic, fun, and interesting things in the service of their customers. We want to know about it! Examples of what we'd like to feature on our blog include, but are by no means limited to, a new store opening, a charity fundraiser, or a story about a special employee. In the current business climate, we are often inspired by the businesses that are finding new opportunities and using this 'down turn' as a time for growth.

If you would like for us to share your story, email me at charityreview@kansascity.bbb.org.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

St. Matthews Churches - Church or Scam?

I got a letter in the mail a few days ago at my home here in Eastern Kansas. I immediately recognized who it was from, as this organization is all too familiar to me. In my years of charity review work, this organization has often come to my attention: Tulsa, Oklahoma's St. Matthew's Churches.

As I generally don't get mail from out-of-state churches not affiliated with my own place of worship, the letter left me with a few questions. Is this organization really a church? What is its mission? So, I did what anyone with questions about a charity should do. I researched it. After I failed to find a recent IRS form 990 (a tax document that publicly soliciting organizations are required to fill out) at http://www.guidestar.com/, I called their office in Tulsa, OK. Apparently, this church hires a law firm to answer their calls. When I stated who I was - I was polite and honest and mentioned that I work for the BBB - I was told that all information about the organization is attorney-client privilege and could not be shared with me. All I wanted was basic information and transparency is an important aspect of nonprofit ethics. I was then given the name - first name only - of someone who would be able to answer my questions, but conveniently this person was out of the office.

The BBB's Wise Giving Alliance, the branch of the BBB that works with nationally soliciting organizations, has a report that simply states that St. Matthew's Churches has declined its requests for information. The Alliance and several BBBs across the country have received inquiries about them. Apparently, they do a decent job of taking people off their mailing lists. Additionally, they are tax-exempt under section 501 (c) 3 of the Internal Revenue Code. While places of worship are excluded from much of the reporting requirements of the IRS, as well as the BBB's Charity Accountability Standards, it is not hard to see how this loophole could be taken advantage of by someone with less-than-noble motivations.

Really, I can't tell you whether this organization is a church or a scam. I honestly don't know. What I do know is that they clearly do not have the commitment to transparency that we at the BBB see as a hallmark of a strong commitment to nonprofit ethics. I trust consumers to make up their own mind about St. Matthew's Churches and any other organization that solicits them. I encourage everyone to think seriously about organizations they wish to be involved with and to do their research.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

ADDY Awards show off BBB Accredited Businesses' Hard Work

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) Kansas City, held their annual ADDY Awards.  The Kansas City ADDY awards is the largest of more than 150 AAF competitions nationwide. All the brilliant winning entries can be found HERE.  (My favorite is the Gold Addy award for Consumer or Trade Publication created by the BBB Accredited, and big winner of the event, Bernstein & Rein for their Hostess magazine advertisement found HERE).

Bernstein & Rein won the most awards in the Kansas City area with a combined total of 66 Gold, Silver and Bronze ADDYs.  Another BBB Accredited Business, VML, won 24 awards.  Both of the companies each won a national Silver ADDY award for flash websites--VML for ESPN Euro 2008 website. It's no longer around, but they redesigned this ESPN site, and Bernstein & Rein for Devotchka's site.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Responding to the Earthquake in Chile

As the world knows, the South American Country of Chile suffered one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded on Saturday. The 8.8 magnitude quake was 501 times stronger than the January earthquake that hit Haiti. Anyone who watched the news this weekend saw the destruction it involved. Thankfully, the death toll from this earthquake is expected to be far less than in Haiti because it didn't hit a major population center and affected a highly developed country with resources, strong building codes that saved countless lives, and a stable democratic government.

I know the beauty and appeal of Chile firsthand, as I was fortunate to spend a college semester in the southern Chilean town of Valdivia in 1998. My heart goes out the warm, passionate (read anything by poet Pablo Neruda and you'll know what I mean), and caring people of that great country.

If you would like to help the Chilean people rebuild and recover, we at the BBB remind you to give wisely by following these tips:

1. Be cautious when giving online. Be highly skeptical of unsolicited personal emails sent to your inbox from persons claiming to be quake victims. Give only through secure online portals.

2. Find out if the charity you are considering donating to has an on-the-ground presence in impacted areas.

3.Find out if the charity is providing direct aid, or merely raising money for other groups. You may just want to skip the middleman.

4. When giving gifts of clothing, food, or other in-kind donations, make sure the charity that is processing your donation has a way to transport and distribute those goods. Chile is much farther from the US than Haiti and I suspect that donations of in-kind goods from Kansas City would be somewhat impractical.

For a list of BBB Accredited Charities that provide international relief aid, check out this list. Please note that the BBB has not yet verified whether these charities are specifically providing aid in Chile, so please contact your favorite organization before donating.