Sunday, May 16, 1999

ENTREPRENEURS


Owner set trap for work thief

BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Arthur Neuman, co-founder of Handyman Connection, a Springdale home-repair firm with $30 million in annual revenues, had a big worry in February. Callers who left messages on the company's voice mail were telling employees later assigned to follow up calls that they already found a fix-up man. The guy who was sent out would do fine, they said.

        The problem was Handyman Connection had not sent anybody out. When authorities were slow to act, slow to bring charges, Mr. Neuman set up a sting of his own.

        He monitored the company's answering system and found it was being surreptitiously accessed at night. Mr. Neuman, who grew up in the tough neighborhood of Oakland in Pittsburgh, went to a rule he learned on those mean streets: Move first and be fast.

        “If a guy said, "You wanna fight,' before he got the "t' out of his mouth, I hit him,” Mr. Neuman said.

        The monitor showed that on one night about nine work requests were pilfered. Mr. Neuman started doing some basic addition. “Five days a week, say 40 work orders a week for eight weeks. That's 320 work orders. We close 70 percent of our jobs. At $300 a job, that's a lot of damn money,” Mr. Neuman said.

        He could sit still no more. His wife called in a request for a bid, and when a man showed up at the Neuman household in Fairfield, Mr. Neuman waited in the front room.

        The cost to replace some cabinet knobs and cut down a door was $225, the family was told. Mr. Neuman held up a newspaper story about how he was co-owner of Handyman Connection and then offered an assessment of his own:

        YOU HAVE SOME PROBLEMS.

        Mr. Neumann said he was tired of being ripped off. “Every time he stole a work order, he was denying my sales people a commission, my craftsmen a work order and my company the profits,” Mr. Neuman said. “Would he agree that I was injured? He agreed. I offered to let him make restitution with payments through the court if he signed a statement.”

        After the statement was signed. Mr. Neuman brought it to authorities. “I told them I was sorry I didn't have a silver platter,” Mr. Neuman said.

        A Hamilton County grand jury indicted Joseph Carusone on Feb. 23 on two felony counts: one count of intercepting a wire, oral or electronic communication and one count of trying to profit from the interception. He pleaded not guilty. Mr. Carusone and his attorney, Dean Pisacano, did not return telephone calls about the case.

        Mr. Neuman waits with a degree of satisfaction, though he wonders why the wheels of justice were so slow. “It's a pending case and we don't talk about details of investigations in pending cases,” said Karl Kadon, chief assistant Hamilton County prosecutor.

        He wonders, too, what would have happened if he hadn't set up his own sting. Would authorities have eventually filed charges?

        Then there's another question, a timeless one: “What happens if a guy doesn't have the (guts) that I have?” Mr. Neuman asked.

        Ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Neuman offered one final perspective: “I guess some things you just gotta do yourself.”

       

        John Eckberg covers small-business news for the Enquirer. Have a small-business question, concern or quandary? E-mail him at jeckberg@enquirer.com, and he will find the expert with the answers.

       



Provident tries to stay independent
Federated sees Fingerhut as complementary
Innovate and conquer
P&G lawsuit about Amway thrown out
TIPSHEET
- Owner set trap for work thief
Ideas drive companies in spotlight
PRICIEST HOMES
SMALL-BUSINESS DIARY