Highway patrol troopers in Parker County are warning residents to avoid doing business with asphalt contractors who are suspected of bilking customers with shoddy work.
The troopers, who are assigned to commercial vehicle enforcement, said the contractors are called "gypsy pavers" because they are suspected of traveling the nation and stopping in communities where they scam unsuspecting customers. Frequently the victims are elderly.
Two asphalt trucks and a trailer were impounded Wednesday after two workers were stopped on U.S. 377 north of Cresson, said Trooper David Smith of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The equipment was impounded because the rigs violated numerous permit, licensing and safety laws, Smith said. The two drivers who were stopped did not have commercial driver's licenses, he added.
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"I would be hesitant to say that these are from any particular group," Smith said, "but they come through twice a year, usually in the spring and fall and you have to have your guard up."
While not identifying these pavers as so-called "Irish Travelers," Forrest said they are using similar techniques in Parker County to ones identified by police from around the nation.
Senior Trooper John Forrest said he has been chasing such pavers for 30 years.
"They come in and say, 'Hey, I just finished this job down the street but I have some extra material and I can put it down for you and charge just for the cost of the labor. The material is already paid for.'
"I know one incident where an elderly resident was clipped for $20,000. Somehow they talked (the customer) into a signing a contract, then jacked up the billing."
The two drivers who were stopped Wednesday admitted that they worked for the unscrupulous pavers, but they were released because no criminal complaints had been made against them, Smith said.
The troopers added that it's hard to make a case against one of these pavers without a complaint from a bilked customer.
"I think a lot of people are hesitant to file because they're embarrassed that they got taken by a con man," Smith said. "But as commercial vehicle enforcement officers, we can say 'Hey, we know what you’re doing and we're going to make it hard for you."
For example, Smith said, the equipment that was impounded Wednesday can't be returned until the owners provide the proof that the various registrations and permits have been paid for and that safety features like the steering brakes on one vehicle have been fixed.
"So, that's going to cost several thousand dollars right there," Smith said. "Right now they're probably scrambling, trying to figure how to get together enough cash to get the vehicles back, which is fine by me.
"We go after these travelers and gypsies like we go after these drug runners on the interstate. We don't want them here."
Smith said people can avoid a scam by not hiring unsolicited workers who come to the door.
"If you want someone to pave your driveway or roof your house, use a local company -- someone you know is going to be around in six months when you want to find them," he said. "Don't ever use someone you didn't contact first."