Roofing and fraud have had a long, intertwined history over decades, and probably much longer. Just ask Google. Every roofing contractor worth their salt has a horrific “Chuck-with-a-truck” anecdote or cautionary tale about repairing the work of other roofers who ghosted their customers after payment, but before the job was done right.
While that problem still exists, and becomes the target of legislative efforts around the country, a new trend is emerging of roofing contractors that become victims of fraud themselves. Even worse, the perpetrators are largely from the inside — employees taking advantage of lapses in internal controls while being deceitful on both professional and personal levels.
In the last three months, RC reported on roughly a dozen roofing-related crimes. They include:
- A bookkeeper of a Pennsylvania roofing company who admitted to making more than $394,000 of unauthorized charges for a lavish lifestyle highlighted by tickets to sporting events and plastic surgery.
- An Arkansas couple that defrauded the Social Security Administration of more than $167,000 by claiming disability while working for a roofing company. They were both sentenced to six months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
- Three men sentenced to at least one year in prison for defrauding a North Carolina commercial roofing company of more than $1.8 million through fraudulent invoices.
Construction law expert Trent Cotney, partner at Adams and Reese, said embezzlement is an unfortunate reality of the construction industry today, and that fraud is more rampant throughout than people realize.
The roofing industry is full of good, hard-working people willing and often eager to use their expertise to help others. The people, and the relationships we build within the framework of roofing are the main reason I’ve been in the business for 23 years, and still going strong. But it’s a business, and just as in any other business enterprise in a competitive marketplace, there are those that look to benefit through deceitful and sometimes criminal means.
The more I and others of the RC team heard about fraud occurring on large and small scales in our industry, it became apparent that it’s more widespread than people think. And that’s largely because it continues happening under the radar, behind the scenes. We want to help shine a light on this so that other roofing contractors can help protect themselves and snuff this type of activity out of the industry.
Our mission at RC is to inform, educate and help roofing contractors — and the people and companies that serve them — improve their businesses. Just like the brave sources who are sharing their stories, we want to make sure roofing contractors walk away with information they can use to question and improve the systems in place at their own businesses. We’re also a place where contractors can go to rely on each other and nurture their professional networks so that they can share and develop problem-solving strategies.
We know it’s often difficult for most people to talk about these issues without feeling shame or embarrassment. Most of the time, they dive back into their businesses and never want to talk about it again. Yet we also found that by highlighting the strength of just a few brave contractors, more people became willing to share and talk about their experiences.
This is a serious issue impacting the roofing industry, and RC will continue to talk about how to help contractors be aware, how to put policies in place, and what to do if it unfortunately happens in your business. We hope all this information will help you look at your own policies to prevent this from happening to you.
Each year on the Best of Success stage, I say we are a family. The roofing industry is family, and it’s our passion to change people’s lives and businesses for the better. There isn’t anyone more passionate about protecting our industry than our staff at RC.
“Whether it’s a competitor using your logos, identify theft or misappropriation of funds, fraud not only damages your reputation, but your ability to remain profitable,” he said. “I always say that, in order to be a roofing contractor, you’ve got to have a good accountant, a good lawyer and a good insurance agent. Depending on the nature of the fraud, you may need to get one or all of them involved in order to help remedy it.”
It’s Bigger in Texas
Steve Little and his team at National Roofing Partners (NRP) needed all three and then some. Their journey into discovering an ongoing fraud right under their own roof revealed a web of deceit executed by a small group of empowered staff enabled by weak safeguards that allowed them to avoid detection for years. Wading through a path of lies, fraudulent billings and attempted cover up took more than 18 months and over a million dollars in legal costs to mitigate.
“We thought we had strong segregation of duties between the company officers, yet not strong enough,” said Little, NRP CEO.
It started with a seemingly harmless question Little, a roofing industry veteran, couldn’t answer from a consultant in 2018 about why their client wasn’t getting service from their regular roofer. The company is a network of Tier-1 roofing contractors spread across 230 locations nationwide, yet consistency and building long-term relationships with owners of multiple facilities are hallmarks of its business strategy.
Stumped, Little and Kyrah Coker, NRP’s vice president of finance, began to unravel a trail that uncovered more than $1 million in missing money spent on cash bonuses and lavish personal items for the people involved.
It all culminated in a nine-day civil trial last November in Dallas where jurors unanimously found Dale Tyler, NRP’s president from 2012 to 2018, guilty of fraud and embezzlement, failure to perform his fiduciary duties, and breach of contract. The jury also found Tyler’s daughter, Mallory Payne, who was NRP’s national accounts manager, guilty of a separate charge. She paid restitution in full, records show. Records show NRP settled out of court with two other employees for their involvement.
The court awarded damages exceeding $1.3 million dollars in Tyler’s case, which he has not paid back. During the trial, NRP’s attorneys outlined a multi-pronged approach used to defraud NRP that included:
- Tyler’s clandestine creation of Statewide Texas Roofing, a roofing company that siphoned roofing work away from NRP contractors, and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in work orders for projects in Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma.
- A billing scheme charging for project management services never performed.
- Using spot bonuses and expensive gifts to induce cooperation from key staff.
- Improper charges to multiple company credit cards exceeding $600,000.
Days in Court
Despite numerous attempts, neither Tyler, nor his attorney, Wendell Washington, answered detailed questions from RC.
Washington returned calls seeking comment and confirmed he represented Tyler and his daughter at trial. He said the appeal period to contest the verdict had passed, and that he still represented Tyler; however, he declined to answer specific and detailed questions about the case.
Neither he nor Tyler have responded to further requests for an interview, or responded to questions sent via email by RC.
According to his LinkedIn bio, Tyler describes himself as a visionary with big-picture perspective and an entrepreneurial spirit. Attorneys for NRP argued at trial that he let that entrepreneurial spirit get the better of him — devising multiple schemes to bilk NRP accounts while enlisting others who were needed to keep the fraudulent activities below detection from other executives and the NRP board.
Court records show that Tyler’s attorney insisted his client did nothing wrong at trial. Further, he argued the business moves were made with NRP’s and specifically Little’s knowledge.
“Everything that Mr. Tyler ever did at NRP was above board. He hid nothing,” Washington said in his opening statement, court records show.
Washington also tried to appeal to jurors by alluding to Tyler’s bootstrap mentality and creative vision.
“Dale Tyler’s got a couple of years of college experience and has worked his way up in the roofing industry,” he said later in the opening.
According to testimony, Tyler violated his employment agreement with NRP multiple times, notably when it came to compensation. His agreement stipulated a six-figure annual salary with annual escalators, as long as NRP maintained similar profitability. The compensation package also included a personal allowance and annual bonus.
Attorneys argued the generous salary and benefits were not enough.
Using a third-party investigator referred by NRP’s insurer, the attorneys traced fraudulent purchases back to as early as 2013. He was spending NRP dollars on European trips, vacation homes, jewelry, clothing, a personal trainer and more. In all, attorneys said they tracked down more than $567,000 in improper personal charges compiled on Tyler’s company credit card alone.
Attorneys also argued Tyler showered key staff with spot bonuses and gifts that ranged from expensive dinners to vehicles.
With the others on board, Tyler spearheaded a system where he received monthly statements and had sole authority to approve all personal charges. He and the CFO also conspired to hide charges in NRP financial statements, never reported those charges as income, and deliberately placed those statements away from other business records.
The personal charges were just part of it. On the accounts payable side of the business, they devised a system of generating work orders to make their “side” roofing company the vendor. In addition to essentially cutting checks to themselves via this parallel roofing company, they also charged for project management services they had nothing to do with.
The elaborate scheme included searching for jobs that generated larger profits than projected, or typical, and creating a purchase order for those excess dollars. They would then approve a check from NRP as payment, mail it to a P.O. Box, and go pick it up, testimony showed.
They also used NRP workers, warehouse space and materials to complete jobs, and were as bold as to even apply manufacturer rewards points for work gear to outfit their crews.
Ultimately, the jurors found that Tyler breached his fiduciary duty as president that was spelled out in the employment agreement dissected during testimony.
Little and Coker began speaking publicly about the ordeal at the 2022 International Roofing Expo in New Orleans. During the 90-minute session, they broke down elements of their specific case and highlighted the safeguards put in place to ensure it never happens again. They also delved into the process of using forensic experts to gather the evidence needed to secure the guilty verdict from jurors in civil court, and ultimately a referral to the local prosecutor. No criminal charges have been filed as of publication.
Though NRP officials couldn’t discuss much about the case before the final judgement in March, keeping quiet since was not an option, given the lessons learned.
“Our case was unique because it involved collusion between officers, and that’s a really hard situation to protect yourself in, even with internal controls,” Coker said. “Develop relationships with your receptionist, your payroll clerks, and other employees so they feel comfortable raising a hand if they see something off. These are the people that can help you find when others are colluding to steal or defraud your company.”
Although difficult, Little and Coker said they believe the company is stronger today. Little said the company has reached multiple years of business goals, and is well positioned for years of sustainability and growth in the future.
Looking back on the ordeal, Little said he doesn’t regret seeing the case all the way through, and does believe the experience created stronger checks and balances at Dallas-based KPost Roofing & Waterproofing, the other company of which he is a principle co-owner.
“We have learned a lot that can help people manage their financial risk that would make their company stronger and our industry better,” he explained. “I’ve been encouraged by fellow owners and industry leaders to share our experience.”
Since he began talking publicly about the ordeal, Little said he’s heard about 100 stories or so from owners of roofing companies big and small about the types of in-house fraud they’ve uncovered. He said surprisingly, the common factor in most of them was that people didn’t take any legal action.
“That’s so disappointing,” he said. “They didn’t take it through to the end because they either didn’t want to deal with it, or wanted to move on. We have a lively board at NRP, and there was fraud fatigue, there was attorney-fee fatigue. But we were true to our word, and you need to see it all the way through so that people understand that stealing from roofing companies is not going to work.”