I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: Contractor with city raises questions

Published: Nov. 15, 2018 at 4:45 PM EST
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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

News 12 at 6/NBC at 7

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- An I-TEAM investigation into a local contractor takes an unexpected turn. It all started when News 12’s Meredith Anderson began looking into allegations that Henry Bryant did not have the license he needed for a project at a disabled veteran's home. Two days after that interview, Richmond County Marshals slapped Bryant with a ticket. Now, our I-TEAM has uncovered yet another problem, and this time, taxpayers are footing the bill.

Our I-TEAM requested all invoices from work Bryant has done for Richmond County for the last 2 years under the Open Records Act. The total is more than a quarter of a million dollars. What News 12 found in those papers could prompt the state to investigate.

News 12 first requested these invoices after finding photos on the HBJ enterprises website labeled "Renovations at Augusta utilities". Anyone doing their homework online might see this as an endorsement.

Back in November, we also found the Better Business Bureau logo on the HBJ website. When we asked about it, the BBB called this a "logo violation."

It has since been removed.

Meredith: "Can you comment about Henry Bryant?"

Rob Sherman: "No there is pending litigation, and I would prefer not to."

Augusta's Planning and Development Director is able to talk about the type of license Bryant has. Bryant faced a judge in November after News 12 showed you the unfinished work at Melissa Lane's home. He's accused of working as a contractor without a state contractor's license. Another News 12 viewer also came forward with the very same allegations.

It turns out Bryant has a very limited license with Augusta-Richmond County.

Rob Sherman: "Replace windows, put on vinyl siding, gutters, downspouts, that type of work."

It's called a specialty contractor.

Rob Sherman: "It's just basically small projects. Non-structural."

News 12 found he's doing more than that, though. Three invoices, totaling $28,800, are for "application of chemical spraying of right of ways." That requires not one, but 2 state licenses.

When News 12 couldn't find either, we double-checked with the state. We got the following response: "Our records indicate that Mr. Henry Bryant is not licensed as a commercial pesticide contractor, nor does he have a license with the AG inputs section of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Your search results are correct."

Mr. Bryant also doesn't have a plumber's license, but we found two invoices where the city hired him twice for projects totaling more than $33,000.

Meredith: "What about plumbing. Can they, can they do any plumbing?"

Rob Sherman: "Specialty contractor? No. A specialty contractor, he can do plumbing under a plumber."

This means that there is a loophole and Augusta leaders created it.

Rob Sherman: "It used to be that the city would get inmates to help with these construction projects. Inmates who had a lot of experience in construction."

Since you can't pull a permit in jail, leaders changed the rules to allow Augusta-Richmond County to pull the permit for them. It opened the door for qualified people to do cheap work, but this also could create a back door for unqualified people.

Meredith Anderson: "So it could be a way to get around somebody having to have a license for some things."

Rob Sherman: "It's a way for the city to have jobs done. But the city has got to be responsible for it if they are not hiring a licensed contractor."

That means you, the taxpayer, would be on the hook, and we've shown you time and time again a number of problems associated with unlicensed contractors.

The city's PIO did give News 12 a statement admitting to the error in allowing someone to spray without a license. He also promised stricter checks and balances.

Here is the full statement:

I am awaiting additional information regarding this contract, yet it appears that none of the personnel at HBJ Enterprises possesses the necessary state Agriculture Department licenses to serve as a commercial applicator of herbicides. Although our procurement process requires contractors to have the necessary licenses to perform the work they are hired to do, HBJ Enterprises has not produced evidence of having a herbicide applicator license at this time. Nonetheless, there is no indication that the job was performed improperly. HBJ Enterprises currently is listed with the Augusta Compliance Department's Local Small Business Opportunity Program Directory and has bid on numerous projects in the past. Jobs that cost less than $10,000 require departments only to obtain bids from three individuals, as was done in this case. (Earlier, I provided you a copy of our Competitive Procurement Guidelines as background.) Historically, the mechanisms in place have been adequate to ensure that unlicensed contractors are not performing work inconsistent with the licenses they have. This situation is prompting a closer review of the checks and balances in place and will likely result in even stricter measures of accountability when specialized state licenses are at issue.

Thursday, November 27, 2018

News 12 at 6 o'clock / NBC 26 at 7

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- We have an update to an I-Team investigation into a local contractor accused of doing work he wasn't licensed to do. Just two days ago, Henry Bryant faced a judge in Richmond County. After that hearing, Henry Bryant told Meredith Anderson she had it wrong because he did have a "specialty contractor's license."

Today, his attorney sent me this copy. Our I-Team also got one from the County.

However, investigators say this doesn't really change anything because it's not the license he needed for the job that landed him in Richmond County Magistrate Court this week. We first showed you an unfinished project almost two weeks ago. To build an addition on to a house, you have to have a state contractor's license. Bryant's license is with the county, and it's pretty limited. Our I-Team is told it allows Bryant to do some work, like roofing or siding replacement. Bryant is bonded and insured for that, but, again, he does not have a state contractor's license.

According to the Specialty License, the Planning and Development Department has the right to suspend any certificate if the business violates the law. Commissioners could then revoke it.

Bryant is due back in court in 30 days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

News 12 at 6 o'clock / NBC 26 at 7

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The contractor at the center of an I-Team investigation faced a Richmond County Magistrate judge this morning. Henry Bryant is charged with doing work without a license. We first told you about a News 12 viewer's complaint against Bryant and his company, HBJ Enterprises, twelve days ago.

Just two days after Meredith Anderson went to Melissa Lane's home on Windsor Spring Road, the Richmond County Marshal's Office slapped him with a ticket and, thus, today's court date. Henry Bryant's lawyer entered a "not guilty" plea and requested a bench trial. Instead, the judge gave Bryant 30 days to work with Augusta Planning and Development to come to some sort of resolution.

The whole thing didn't even take 10 minutes today.

It's been a lot longer for Melissa Lane. She says she's been dealing with this for the last seven months. he paid Bryant $35,000 for work he never finished. According to his ticket from the Marshal's Office, he never should have started it because he didn't have the proper licenses. "He told us from his own mouth, 'trust me. I got you.'"

Brian Zicari saw our story where we first uncovered Bryant had been working at the Lane's home without a state contractor's license and without a Richmond County business license. "He did that to a Veteran who's disabled," he said. "And took a lot more money from her than he did from me."

He hired Bryant for a job that also sits unfinished. "So, it's Thanksgiving," He said. "And you're here looking at my incomplete bathroom."

Another News 12 viewer named Bettye Bailey sent our I-Team an email, too. "I gasped in my den when I heard the name Henry Bryant and HBJ Enterprises, she wrote. She also sent photos of a leak in her fireplace after she says Henry Bryant replaced her roof. She says she paid him more than $5,000 for that job in 2010. She also sent me the contract for repair work he did in 2015 that cost $1,600. So why did she hire him again to possibly fix what she believes he didn't do right the first time? "I am now a Widow," she wrote. "I tell you this because my husband had been the one to deal with Mr. Bryant."

Brian Zicari says there are also problems with the work done on his bathroom. "Yeah, there's a lot of gaps everywhere," he said as he pointed to the siding on the outside of his addition. He's also worried about the foundation, the electrical work, and the gutters.

Meredith Anderson: "Is any of it correct?"

Brian Zicari: "You know, I don't know 100%."

He does know it's not going to be a cheap fix. He paid Bryant $13,000 and then, recently, he spent a couple grand with another company to draw new plans so he can be certain everything is up to code. "I believe personally, he should go to jail," said Zicari.

Again, a judge granted a continuance in court today for his charge related to work at Melissa Lane's home.

Meredith tried to talk with Bryant just after. He said he didn't want to speak on camera, but he told her off-camera that he does have the necessary licenses. He specifically called it a "specialty contractor's license." Meredith looked again today but couldn't find one for him. She also called the State Professional Licensing Board again today to check once again. She was told he doesn't have a license.

Bryant says his attorney has a copy of his licenses. Meredith has requested it. So far, she has not received anything.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

News 12 at 6 o'clock / NBC 26 at 7

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Unfortunately, it's not unusual for our I-Team to uncover unlicensed contractors doing work they shouldn't, but this was a new one for us because there was a permit. Two days after Meredith Anderson went to check out the house, the Richmond County Marshal's office gave the contractor, Henry Bryant, a ticket for not having a license. That could just be the beginning.

Melissa Lane stood in her unfinished room, though she told us she could stand there for long. "Anybody that has arthritis know about old Arthur," she said. "I know about Arthur. When he comes around, it hurts real bad."

This room, or what's supposed to have been a room, is causing a different kind of pain. We'll get to that in just a minute. First, Melissa probably should sit down.

"In 2003, I was in a bad accident. The driver had a seizure," she said from her couch inside. She says she broke her back, pelvis, and pretty much everything else. "I broke everything except my arm. I broke my legs, my ankles. I broke a lot." Now, Melissa says she is dealing with a broken heart because her house is broken. "It's more than just a house," she said. "It's a home."

She wanted extra space for family gatherings, but she needs it for her wheelchair. She says she is using hers more and more. She says a 30 by 35 addition. HBJ Enterprises promised to build it for a total of $70,000. Lane says she paid him about $35,000 to date.

Henry Bryant signed as their contractor.

"He told us he was licensed, bonded, and everything," she said.

He's not.

Augusta's permit office confirms neither he nor HBJ Enterprises has a business license in Richmond County. We're also told he's not licensed or bonded.

We kept digging until we reached Atlanta.

Turns out HBJ Enterprise has a state business license, but that's it.

Henry Bryant is not a licensed contractor, and that's a big problem. If he can't pull building permits, then how did Henry Bryant get one?

He didn't. The permit says T. L. Clark.

Who is T. L. Clark? Well, for one, Thomas L. Clark is a licensed contractor. Augusta Planning and Development tells me he was the one who got the permit, so he was the one supposed to be doing the work.

When you look at HBJ's website, you might think it has an endorsement, of sorts, from Richmond County. It has photos of "renovations at Augusta Utilities." (Remember, HBJ does not have a business license in Augusta-Richmond County.) It also says it's accredited with the Better Business Bureau. We checked. It's not. Gigi Turner, the regional manager, tells News 12 they "were advised to remove the logo from all of their advertising. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention."

"It's just the worst nightmare that I ever had," said Lane, a veteran who fought in Desert Storm. On the day I sat down with Lane, she met me at her house; she has been at a hotel for three days. She says the unfinished addition damaged other parts of her home. Her husband showed us places where, they say, water has been leaking in because the roof wasn't tied in to the rest of the home. She says the Thanksgiving dinner she was planning for her six kids, their kids, and her Aunts and Uncles from Memphis will have to happen somewhere else.

Melissa Lane: "That really hurts my heart."

Meredith Anderson: "Do you think it's ever going to be resolved?"

Lane: "I'm praying that it does. I'm praying that my house would be brought back to the structure that it needs to be or that it once was where I felt safe and secure in it."

According to his citation from the Richmond County Marshal's Office, Henry Bryant is due in Magistrate Court November 27th. As for the contractor who pulled the permit, his license could be in jeopardy. Once the Lanes file a complaint, the state licensing board would then investigate. We'll keep you posted.

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