(This article was originally published on April 24, 2014)
Jerry Thorndyke wants you to think he’s a businessman.
He’s got a fleet of trucks, a hot-mix spreader, a steel-drum roller and a handful of employees working for his construction company.
Driveways are Thorndyke’s specialty.
But there’s a problem: Thorndyke isn’t much of a driveway man. In reality, he’s little more than a common con man.
One of his recent targets was a Valencia County man named Brian Culp.
“He asked me if I would be interested in having my driveway asphalted,” Culp said in an interview. “He said he had some leftover mix from a previous job and he usually charged $6.50 a square foot, he would give it to me for $2.50 a square foot.”
Here’s how Culp, a retired state employee, described the driveway paving job he paid Thorndyke $9,700 to complete: “This was a hit and run.”
KRQE News 13 approached Thorndyke with a camera rolling to get his reaction to Culp’s characterization of his work: “Get away from me with that,” Thorndyke said.
He told News 13 that he lives in Texarkana but he’s done construction work all over the Land of Enchantment.
“I run a lot of fires like this and do a lot of subcontracting jobs for a guy,” Thorndyke said. “A few years ago, you know where Zunis is? I did all of Zunis two or three years ago. He’s out of business now.”
On a recent afternoon, Thorndyke and his crew spent the afternoon laying asphalt at Culp’s place, then beat a hasty path to the bank to cash Culp’s check.
What was left behind was one heck of a mess. After only a week, the driveway already was falling apart. The specs for residential driveways call for about two-and-half inches of compacted asphalt. The paving at Culp’s place was less than an inch.
“Probably a D minus.” That was the grade Robert Wood, a licensed paving contractor from Albuquerque, gave the work Thorndyke did at Culp’s house.
“They didn’t have any intent in making a professional job,” Wood said. “This was get it done and get that check and get it to the bank. … It was put down cold. And there was a lot of hand work that was done unnecessarily, and this is what you get. This right here is not going to last.”
But Culp’s driveway wasn’t the end of the road for Thorndyke.
Most fly-by-night contractors would’ve been long gone. Thorndyke was still hanging around. With the lure of doing more paving work, he returned to repair the damage.
“A little cold right here,” he told Culp. “What that is a little cold spot that’s all it is. Just a cold spot. I’ll work it in and see what I can do for you.”
The poor craftsmanship wasn’t the only problem with Thorndyke, though. He also isn’t licensed in New Mexico — a fact that caught the attention of state construction regulators.
Following News 13’s investigation, Thorndyke had walked right into those investigators’ trap.
News 13 was present for this exchange: “We’re investigators for Construction Industries. … Mr. Thorndyke, I don’t know if you know it but in New Mexico it is a criminal violation to contract without a New Mexico contractor’s license. So we have a problem here. First thing is you are going to have to stop this work. You cannot do this work. It is a criminal act to do it.”
Pat McMurray heads up the state’s construction regulatory agency.
“We have 181 cases right now that are being investigated,” McMurray told News 13. “It’s a big problem here in New Mexico because the type of contractor that you are dealing with that’s unlicensed typically is incompetent. … Chances are the contractor has no workmen’s compensation insurance, there’s no bond to protect the homeowner, and so you are just out there … They’re offering a deal that sounds great … but nine times out of 10, it violates code.”
Investigators red-tagged Thorndyke’s work site at Culp’s place, and Thorndyke and his crew packed up for parts unknown. Thorndyke was slapped with two counts of contracting without a license and forced to pay Culp back the $9,700.
Wood summed up the scenario that played out at Culp’s home this way: “Its pretty sad. They come in with high pressure and the homeowner thinks, hey man if I don’t act now I’m going to miss out on this good deal … And this is the hazard. This is what you get.”
By the Numbers
Unlicensed Complaints received by CID March 2013- March 2014:
• Total Number of Unlicensed Complaints received by CID: 289
• Total “Open” Cases: 131
• Total Closed Cases: 158
2013 – 2014 Court Statistics for Unlicensed Cases
Number of Criminal Complaints Adjudicated in Court by CID: 104
Out of 104 cases adjudicated in court:
• Number of Pleas: 36
• Number of Convictions: 40
• Number of Warrants: 19
• 9 Cases were dismiss due to no show of Witnesses