October 30, 2013 in City

Builder who stole given a new contractor’s license

By The Spokesman-Review
 
File photo

Samuel Cover owes $500,000 to dozens of people.
(Full-size photo)

A Spokane building contractor twice imprisoned for stealing from customers managed to get a new state contractor’s license this summer after his March release.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries on Tuesday suspended a contractor’s license for Samuel Cover, 47, after being contacted by The Spokesman-Review. The department said Cover made false claims in the registration process for his new company – Above Board Contracting LLC – that he had never worked as a contractor. The state also fined the business $2,000.

Cover was registered as a contractor when he pleaded guilty to 18 felony theft charges in 1995, and then again when he was convicted by a jury on 14 theft charges in 2006.

In both cases, Cover promised clients that he would build pole buildings but didn’t follow through.

Cover launched Above Board Contracting last month with Dorothy “Gail” Paulson. The South Hill business address listed with the state matches the one Cover provided to the court in May after he was released from the Airway Heights prison.

Paulson is listed in records as an Airway Heights prison officer. Paulson filed for divorce in June from her husband of 14 years.

Multiple requests for comment from Cover were not returned by Tuesday night.

Besides the theft charges, Cover has convictions of possessing cocaine and driving under the influence of drugs; robbing a California bank in 1995; and assaulting a person in Spokane in 1991. He was found guilty of writing bad checks in 1991.

The crimes have left Cover owing $500,000 to dozens of people for the contractor theft and bad check convictions, according to court records. He is required to make restitution payments of $175 per month.

Despite his record, however, the court didn’t prohibit Cover from starting another building contractor business.

He wasn’t flagged by the Labor and Industries Department when he went to register Above Board Contracting because he didn’t have outstanding legal challenges, said Dana Botka, a department spokeswoman.

To register with the department, all contractors must file a master business license with the state and provide proof of insurance coverage as well as a minimum bond amount.

The department tracks registrants by Social Security numbers and known business associates. Cover’s information in the filings for his previous company, ICS Steel Building, matched Above Board, Botka said.

Above Board’s profile with Labor and Industries shows an insurance policy for $1 million through Wesco Insurance Co. and a $12,000 bond provided by Developers Surety and Indemnity Co. Both businesses secure clients through independent local agents, according to spokespeople for their offices.

A Developers Surety spokeswoman would not comment on specific policies, though she said criminal background checks are not usually conducted on bond applicants.

Joel White, executive director of the Spokane Home Builders Association, said the bond company has the most responsibility in weeding out problematic contractors.

“If they’ve had issues, you would hope the bond company would find that out,” White said. “They’re the ones that would be liable.”

Jan Himebaugh, government affairs director with the Building Industry Association of Washington, said she’s not aware of any legislative efforts to toughen restrictions on who can register as a contractor, saying such laws could have civil rights implications.

“We always encourage homeowners … to do their due diligence on their contractors,” Himebaugh said.

Traci Bowles originally contracted Cover to build a pole barn on her property in the mid-2000s and said she chose him because of his inexpensive estimate. Cover showed up to dig holes in her yard and deliver some of the supplies after she made an upfront payment of more than $2,000, Bowles said, but he never finished the job.

Bowles didn’t recover any of her money.

Keith O’Donnell was one of 26 people who came forward to detectives in 2006, saying they’d been ripped off by Cover. O’Donnell has since moved to Arizona but still has the court order requiring Cover to pay back the $5,000 he took without doing any work.

“He’s paid maybe $10,” O’Donnell said Tuesday.

O’Donnell was shocked Cover had been allowed to register as a contractor again.

“It’s ridiculous to have a man out there in the same business that he’s taken people doing since the ’90s,” he said.

Bowles said she made a mistake picking Cover because of his cheap estimate. She won’t make that mistake again.

“If you get anything built, do not pay a dime until they’re done,” Bowles said. “You hire someone that you know.”

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