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Brian Culwell: All That Glitters May Not Be Gold at Gold and Silver Buyers

Correction Correction: Brian Culwell was not convicted of a crime in relation to the DreamKids / Olajuwon Internet jewelry sales. Instead, in April of 2005, he was convicted of state jail felony theft for his role in fraudulently using his power-of-attorney over Dolores Hawkins's affairs to settle his debt with Uri Cohen, the diamond seller mentioned in the post below. Culwell was sentenced to two years in state jail for that offense. Hair Balls regrets the error.

Back in March, the Houston Chronicle produced a glittering profile of Brian and Amelia Culwell, founders of Houston-based Gold and Silver Buyers. The company, the report noted, had been launched in August of 2008 in a leased space inside an HEB store and had since grown to almost 50 outlets all over Texas. (The number has since grown to more than 50, including many more in H-E-B stores and one in the Galleria.) The reporter quoted the Culwells as saying that their revenues in 2010 were more than $16 million, and that they expected that number to more than double this year.

It seemed like a feel-good report -- a local couple making good in tough economic times. And making good they are -- you can't swing a gold necklace in this town these days without hitting one of their storefronts, complete with their ads featuring corporate spokesman Mickey Gilley and their slogan: "If you sell your gold or silver to anyone else, you've just lost money!"

While the Chron did call in Dan Parsons of the Better Business Bureau to give some pointers on gold-selling, it whiffed big-time on Brian Culwell. Somehow the paper failed to note that for much of the past 20 years, starting almost as soon as he got out of Spring Westfield High School, the 39-year-old Culwell has either been running scams or behind bars, and sullying the name of one of Houston's foremost sports legends along the way.

Among the highlights the Chron failed to mention:

In 1990, when he was barely out of high school, Culwell was convicted of burglary of a building, Four years into the ten-year probated sentence he'd been given, Culwell's probation was revoked and he was sent to prison for seven years.

Around the same time of the burglary offense, in civil court, the Texas State Attorney General shut down a direct-mail scheme in which Culwell and several accomplices promised lucky winners a car and other prizes but instead peddled them cosmetics and delivered shoddy prizes. Along with his co-defendants, Culwell was ordered to pay civil penalties and attorneys fees of $16,125 and make restitution of $19,886.37.

In 2002, Culwell was $192,712 in debt to a local diamond seller. A civil court would later find that in partial settlement of that debt, Culwell gave the jeweler the deed to a Heights home owned by Delores Hawkins, an elderly woman who had given Culwell power-of-attorney over her affairs, ostensibly to repair her credit so she could buy a car. The court would later find that Culwell had swindled Hawkins, who had just had two strokes, out of her home and that he then compounded that rip-off by passing the home along to the jeweler, whose attempt to sell the land was halted when the deed was found to be fraudulently obtained by Culwell.

In 2005, Culwell was sent to prison again, this time for two years for state-jail felony theft. In that case, Culwell opened an eBay market under the banner of Hakeem Olajuwon's Dreamkids Foundation and peddled what was found to be extremely cheap jewelry at grossly inflated prices. Customers thought they were both getting a deal and helping impoverished kids get an education. Instead, one buyer tells Hair Balls that he paid around $700 for an engagement ring "that looked like it came out of a 25-cent gumball machine."

Nine other buyers came forth and told the DA similar stories. Olajuwon's name was cleared, but only after the Dream came downtown under subpoena and gave a statement that he was unaware of Culwell's jewelry sales in his name. Culwell was supposed to have been selling only sports memorabilia and such, according to Olajuwon's testimony. Interestingly, Culwell was able to hire Dick DeGuerin to defend him in that case, and it's downright confounding that this case attracted zero media attention when it went down.

We called Gold and Silver Buyers' corporate office for a comment. After we sat through a lengthy recorded message courtesy of Mickey Gilley, we left a detailed message on their answering machine. So far that message has not been returned.


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