Fool's Gold

Pay attention, because this scam is a tricky one.

Here's the quick and dirty: A company lures unemployed professionals to its fancy office with the promise of offering premier career-counseling services. The counselor is actually a salesman, who verbally and illegally guarantees the client a cherry job in as little as six weeks. The counselor-salesman tells the client the company has a secret list of all the good jobs. All the client has to do is pay a minimum of $5,000, sign a perfectly legal contract and circle "no" on a questionnaire that asks if he was promised a job. If the client asks about that, the salesman assures him that it's just legal mumbo jumbo. Vulnerable, afraid of tapping too deeply into savings, the client goes along with it.

The professional client is now a professional schnook. He has forked over five grand to a counselor who might as well be that Nigerian millionaire who wants your bank account. After a few months of not being bombarded with job offers from the Fortune 500, the client realizes he's been had. But when he tries to get his money back, the company points to the contract. If the client complains to the Better Business Bureau or the attorney general's office, the company might kick back one or two grand, but the client must sign a confidentiality agreement saying he will not disclose any info to a third party. The company has now bought the client's silence and cleared three or four grand. That silence allows it to continue at will.

Now, imagine if this private company were a franchise, with outlets throughout the United States and Canada. Imagine that its name ultimately became so muddied in the industry that it sheds it like a snake sheds its skin, leaving franchisees to grow new scales while perpetrating the same old scam. Imagine if the counselors used answering services and constantly switched e-mail addresses to keep the schnooks at bay.

Now, imagine that while attorneys general in other states finally figured it out and sued the franchisees and the higher-ups, the Texas legislature was deregulating the industry, making it easier for this company to perpetrate its scams. And finally, imagine that, while the three key players coalesce in the Dallas and Houston offices, the Harris County district attorney's office and the state attorney general's office could give a rat's ass.

This part you don't have to imagine: In Texas, it's every schnook for himself.

The posh offices of TCM International are located in the Wells Fargo building near the Galleria.

The firm purports to offer career-counseling skills to unemployed professionals accustomed to substantial salaries. Last year, it was called Bernard Haldane Associates; three months ago, it was BH Careers. Sometimes it was two different names at the same time. A May 8 classified ad in the Houston Chronicle calls it TCM International, but a May 25 confidentiality agreement signed by a schnook identifies it as Bernard Haldane Associates (Haldane).

Moreover, two TCM International classified ads that ran in the Chronicle in April listed TCM International's Web site as careerpositions.com, which is also Bernard Haldane Associates' site. The company's president, Ian McClure, told the Houston Press that the listing was a mistake on the Chronicle's part. But keeping the story straight is a bitch -- when the Press called TCM International's office in July, a secretary said their Web site was careerpositions.com.

The company's official name is Texas Career Management, according to articles of incorporation filed with the Texas secretary of state. Founded by three Haldane heavyweights, the company has since abandoned its Haldane/BH Careers monikers and kept TCM (which has a physical address and a Web site) and SAS, whose function is not clear.

The founding fathers are Ian McClure of Dallas, the former regional director of Haldane; Geoff Coy of Cincinnati, a onetime Haldane "Man of the Year" who operated Haldane offices in Ohio; and Jerold Weinger, whose background is so awesome that it'll have to wait.

For convenience's sake, the Houston Better Business Bureau -- like other BBBs throughout the country -- lumps all Haldane derivatives together under the Haldane umbrella. The complaints all mirror the scheme described earlier. Houston's Haldane files even include e-mail chatter among nationwide BBB directors about the problems they've had with the Haldane hydra.

Houston's BBB files are full of form letters from McClure to outraged clients, and the subsequent confidentiality agreements. Several complainants wrote that their counselors told them to fudge their paperwork. In some cases, clients initially circled "yes" to a question asking if they were verbally promised a job, but then crossed it out, initialed it and circled "no." (These questionnaires are in the BBB's files.)

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow