The Peddler

Both in and out of prison, Brian Culwell has spent his life selling people baubles, trinkets and jewels. Now he's buying your gold and silver.

The Peddler

On November 15, 2001, an intern with the Harris County District Attorney's office handed veteran in-house investigator John Lemerond a file on a couple of seemingly shady travel Web sites called Myowntravel and Academy Travel. Both of those sites were run, in whole or in part, by a 29-year-old two-time ex-con by the name of Brian Edgar Culwell, who was then on federal probation after being convicted in 1995 of four counts of bank fraud.

According to a detailed report the district attorney's office later produced in the investigation, Lemerond Googled Brian Culwell and found a listing on Classmates.com. There he discovered that Culwell was also involved in a Web site called Olajuwon.com. Lemerond clicked on over, and was directed to an eBay auction page for a site run by Culwell under the user name DreamKids.

On the DreamKids page, Lemerond saw listings for purportedly valuable diamond jewelry at insanely low prices, the proceeds of which were supposedly going toward various charities run by then-fading Houston Rockets basketball great and rising real estate magnate Hakeem Olajuwon.

A recent Inc.com article identifies Brian Culwell as the CEO of fast-growing Gold and Silver Buyers, Inc. Culwell has claimed to the Houston Press that he is neither an officer nor a director of Gold and Silver Buyers.
A recent Inc.com article identifies Brian Culwell as the CEO of fast-growing Gold and Silver Buyers, Inc. Culwell has claimed to the Houston Press that he is neither an officer nor a director of Gold and Silver Buyers.
Brian Culwell has been a burr under Houston Better Business Bureau chief Dan Parson's saddle for years. Ten years ago, Parsons had bulging files full of complaints about Culwell's travel and jewelry sales businesses. More recently, Parsons says Gold and Silver Buyers attempted to claim BBB membership without bothering to join.
Barry Sigman
Brian Culwell has been a burr under Houston Better Business Bureau chief Dan Parson's saddle for years. Ten years ago, Parsons had bulging files full of complaints about Culwell's travel and jewelry sales businesses. More recently, Parsons says Gold and Silver Buyers attempted to claim BBB membership without bothering to join.

According to one of Culwell's employees mentioned in the report, terminally ill children were to be spirited to sporting events in limousines through the proceeds of these sales, but that same employee would tell Lemerond that he never saw these magical evenings transpire. But that revelation would come much later in the investigation.

Meanwhile, Lemerond contacted the Houston Better Business Bureau and asked it about the travel sites and the DreamKids page. The BBB files were bulging; there were approximately 15 complaints about the three companies, a remarkably high number for businesses that had been open for as short a time as those three — especially considering that Houston BBB president Dan Parsons says each complaint his office receives represents 20 rip-off victims who don't report to his group.

Lemerond next contacted an investigator with PayPal who told him that PayPal had been hit with numerous charge-backs from people who had attempted to buy jewelry through the DreamKids eBay site. (According to Lemerond's investigation, these charge-backs had run to "many, many thousands of dollars.")

Under subpoena, eBay sent Lemerond the DreamKids sales information from August 2000 to November 27, 2001. The investigator e-mailed a questionnaire to every customer he could find. He received no fewer than 270 responses from angry customers. At the same time, other complaints were streaming in to the BBB and the Harris County District Attorney's Consumer Fraud division, about both DreamKids and the travel sites.

Out of those complaints, the alleged DreamKids scam emerged as the largest. Lemerond successfully identified 215 people who paid a total of $54,879. In almost every case, they thought they were getting valuable diamond jewelry at a 90 percent discount. People saw pictures of glittering baubles reportedly valued at $5,500 but available through DreamKids at the low, low price of $500 or less. It would later come to light that Culwell would pay his Sharpstown Mall supplier $136 for the very same one-carat diamond solitaire rings he would tout as being worth more than $5,000. Layne Wehmeyer, an Anahuac man who purchased what he had hoped would be his engagement ring through DreamKids, told the Houston Press that what he received looked like it had come from a gumball machine.

In a sense, Wehmeyer was lucky. Lemerond reported that 183 people (who paid a total of $44,373) received nothing at all. Thirty-two other people (who paid a total of $10,506) reported that they got cheap, industrial-grade diamonds that they attempted to return for a promised 85 percent refund that was never sent to any of them. Culwell didn't simply ignore these returns, however. According to the report, Culwell's employees told investigators that Culwell would have them remove the returned jewelry and send it on to other customers.

Lemerond reported that many of these people had made their purchases with their credit cards and had successfully challenged the payments. That didn't mean Culwell didn't get the money, Lemerond reported. The investigator found that Culwell had already received payment of $67,833 from such customers, and by the time his merchant credit card company came calling, that money had been whisked away to shelters unknown.

On December 4, 2001, Lemerond had a search warrant and he and five other investigators raided Culwell's FM 1960 offices. Almost two years later, on September 11, 2003, the DA's office finally charged Culwell with second-degree felony theft on and ten counts of deceptive trade practices.

All those cases would be dismissed, thanks in large part to other criminal charges both state and federal authorities brought against Culwell.

In November of 2003, Culwell's federal probation was revoked. After serving 42 months for his 1995 bank fraud conviction, Culwell was on supervised release for the next five years. Under the terms of his federal probation, Culwell was barred from making cash transactions or issuing commercial paper over $200 without the written permission of his probation officer.

United States Judge Lynn Hughes ruled Culwell had done just that by endorsing a check for cash in the amount of $1,000. Hughes didn't restrict himself to just making a ruling, either, as a transcript of that proceeding attests.

At one point Culwell tried to say that the check he wrote himself for $1,000 cash was anything other than what it was. He attempted to claim that it was for expenses, payroll, whatever. He tried to blame his CPA and QuickBooks. He said he wasn't sure what that check was for because the DA took all his records. It might have been an "advanced compensation bonus," Culwell further told the court, and then after some prodding by Hughes about why he didn't make any such note of that in the memo space, Culwell charged ahead, claiming that he paid taxes on that money and that he had stopped compensating himself in that manner on the advice of his CPA, but only after it was too late.

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26 comments
daverickey3
daverickey3

Wow, they have changed their name from Gold and Silver Buyers Inc to Goldwiser but it seems like everything is the same. I always check businesses out and I found the following on Rip Off Report

" I worked for gsb aka goldwiser for almost 2 years before i found out that everybody in ths company are ex cons. We were paid a salary for a unot director working 60 hours for 420 a week. The company encourages you to pay the customer as lil as 20% of what the item is worth. Since i was not paying this low amount i was let go. Brian Culwell is a scam artist Andre Lyles is an ex drug dealer Richard Scrushy is a thief and a liar as well as Jeremy Evans who is like an evil dictator and puts employees name on a wekkly email if they are not scamming the customers out of enough money to make monthly quotas.:

http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/gold-and-silver-buyers/houston-texas-77081/gold-and-silver-buyers-goldwiser-ex-employee-houston-texas-1096504

The Houston Press story is truly an amazing story and it's even more amazing that Brian Culwell is still at it. Perhaps there is a bit of Karma involved currently! It's generally known as a bad thing to swindle incapacitated old ladies out of their homes. Maybe chickens are coming home to roost.

kimkool
kimkool

I called one of their stores today and asked the price they were paying for a gram of 14K Gold. Of course, the girl that answered wouldn't give me a price. She said something about, "they have to analyze each piece and  they calculate things differently than most gold buyers". I'm sure this is true, since it prevents someone from comparing apples to apples, and I'm equally sure this is just double speak for" get the mark to come in and try to lowball him!". They are bottom feeders and probably no better than Culwell's past Ebay scams. And has anyone else noticed that they are doing a lot less paid advertising. Probably a sign that they are starting to go down and you can be sure many will be screwed when that happens.

goldbuyer
goldbuyer

I am currently an employee for Gold and Silver Buyers and I honestly think that he has not changed one bit. I have over $500 taken out of my paychecks since being employed with no response from the company as to why it has been taken out or whether I will be having the money refunded. The payroll department will not answer my calls and have yet to give me one phone call back. I am questioning how long the company will last from now.

Kissbabe66
Kissbabe66

Now hes screwing people on www.prizes.org with a contest named: http://prizes.org/Rebranding-a...Hes offering $500 for a new name for his gold and silver company. The one who submits the name he likes (with an available dot com) will win and be paid the $500. The contest isnt even over yet and today he bought at least 12 of the entries he received, which include 2 of mine. Hes dishonest in many ways, avoid this business at all costs.

ConcernedTX123
ConcernedTX123

I have a question. The neon sign in front of Gold and Silver Buyers at 10978 Grant Rd, Houston, TX 77070 has reportedly been found illegal by Abc13 News and the Harris County Permit Office. And I quote, from an ABC13 news article "We checked with the county about their marketing methods, and they initially told us the business was in compliance. But after a closer look, Josh Stuckey with the Harris County engineering department told us the signs were not permissable, according to signage codes." http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/st... - but the sign is still alive and kicking, despite complaints to the HC Permit Office... our community would just like a final word as to whether it is permissible or not...

Jane
Jane

I myself was a recent victim of Brian and I must say he is not trust worthy nor a man of his word.

Dan Parsons
Dan Parsons

Kiefner -1 - we are NOT a franchise, we are a licensee of the national Council of Better Business Bureaus with a local 50-member (businesses) Board of Directors (including two directors in this industry...a retail jeweler and a pawn shop business)2 - business do not "join"; they are invited and many are not approved or get removed; see our webpage, www.bbbhou.org for "revocations"3 - we take our logo very seriously; it is a 100 year old trademark and millions DO look for it and do business because of it....hence our ire when it is misused,,,,in this case, blantanly, TWICE! Are you saying that the trangression was OK?4 - like you seem to imply, we are "anti-regulation"....we only accept it when deemed a must....and that IS an overriding fear I have with this "industry"...a few bad apples spoiling the batch5 - I am not sure what or where foul play will occur with this group of people - but if the PAST is any indication; this reporter (and my agency as a source) did a public service by sounding the warning.6 - last....objective.??? this BBB and Dan Parsons???....tell ya what....make a visit to my offices, have a cup of coffee and let me tell you why I have to be and have done so for 28 years in this role. I promise you will change your opinion.Dan ParsonsPresidentBBB Houston and South Texas

KiefnerC
KiefnerC

While I read in horror the litany of Culwell's crimes and jaw-dropping descriptions of what a shitty scheister the guy has been in the past, I was taken aback by one of your concluding paragraphs:

"As for right now, Culwell just might be doing the right thing, for whatever reason. Maybe, as one cynic in the D.A.'s office put it to us, with the price of gold as high as it is, Culwell no longer even needs to steal.

Or maybe he's learned his lesson."

Given this, is the point of your piece aimed at the lack of regulation in the marketplace? Personally, I would never do business with a guy like this, and I'm equally curious how he could re-enter this business segment with his record; on the other hand, it seems like the only Culwell has transgressed recently is by using the BBB logo without authorization, and by not being transparent.(Regs again). And frankly, since the BBB is a franchise whose profits derive from businesses "joining" ie paying them, I'm sorta disinclined to take them as an objective watchdog.

Finally, I'm left appalled that this guy is operating. It's evident that someone else besides the press ought to be doing some basic watchdogging here.

ViniVidiDejaVu
ViniVidiDejaVu

Culwell is not walking the straight and narrow; he has judgments against him for significant amounts of money, which he is now capable of paying, and he is ignoring those judgments. Perhaps the next chapter in this story would be your pursing the powers-that-be regarding their failure to go after those payments for the claimants. A big part of this story is the authorities dropping charges and failure to force payment of their judgments. Also, am not convinced this "Officer Oliver" is pure as the driven snow.

Yizguy
Yizguy

How many other advertisers "personally attested" by MICHAEL BERRY are also crooks? Berry just lost that much more credibility!!!!

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Great article. Very well written and planned.

Concerning the discounted jewelry, the gold exchange and possibly the donated money for the kids, I just don't think any branch of government has enough money anymore to hire investigators to protect people from themselves.

Apparently there is a tiny percentage of U.S. Citizens who are 'suckers' as the Circus people were found of saying years ago and their number keeps growing as the overall population keeps growing.

If the 'suckers' are aggrieved let them file papers at the court house and sue the bastards who they themselves allowed to be a thief.

I would much prefer that the feds and state governments fund an educational campaign through the Better Business Bureau (The BBB) and teach people ... If it seems too good to be true...it probably is.

Call out the big dogs for the power of attorney thievery but let the sucker fend for themselves.

I'm just tired of paying the bills.

lowmule1
lowmule1

Well done! Can a leopard change his spots? Will paying mostly market prices for household gold redeem Culwell? Sad that if he had robbed a one stop market he'd probably have been put away for longer but white collar crime just isn't perceived as seriously as blue or no collar offenses as was underscored and then some by the Wall Street debacle -- which was, of course, not cleaned up at all and few were punished. Culwell's got a lotta karmic catching up to do, here's hoping he does just that. Just a really good piece!

Bladeliger97
Bladeliger97

Wow, that's a very enlightening article. I think I skimmed the blog post -- didn't read the comments for it. It strikes me as odd that there weren't further efforts to prosecute in the DreamKids affair and that, awash in cash now, Culwell isn't being forced into settling the judgment in the Hawkins affair.

MadMac
MadMac

Very good article, Mr. Lomax. Very well written.

Guest
Guest

Excellent, well researched article. If possible, please keep us updated on the defamation suit.

Geezy
Geezy

Houston has no shortage of flim flam men running around that's for sure. It's a shame really, that these guys are walking ponzi schemes- fucking people over and ruining lives for shit's and giggles.

The fact that Culwell has had so many chances is disturbing. He'll get back to his old ways sooner or later, you can be be sure of that. Good stuff here Lomax- your on quite a roll this year bud.

Blueballs03
Blueballs03

Good article. I enjoy that you out the frauds of Houston. For the love of god don't get sued for our entertainment.

DiversityMan
DiversityMan

@Kissbabe66 

Well, he's recently been changing his company name to Goldwiser. Why would he change a name with a lot of name recognition, like Gold and Silver Buyers Inc., to a name like that? Could there be scams, bankruptcies, and broken leases as well as lay offs on the horizon? Who would be surprised? I wonder where he'll be on the "Inc 500" next year?

Dan Parsons
Dan Parsons

My office will check for you....our lead investihator sits on the "bandit sign" task force that works in Precinct 4....I will see her later in the day and have her respond....her name is Monica Russo. Dan Parsons/Houston Better Business Bureau

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

I tried talking to Turbeville about DreamKids but we never quite could connect. My thinking is that it would have been a hard, expensive case to prosecute with complainants scattered across America. He was already on the hook for the probation revocation and the theft, so why put the taxpayers through all that expense?

ConcernedTX123
ConcernedTX123

Thank you, this is greatly appreciated! He seems to be moving the sign between the Grant/Jones Rd location and the 1960/Champions location... maybe to pull a bait and switch and avoid troubles... but the sign shows up at the Grant/Jones Rd location about every 3 days, for about 3 days, without fail.

 
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