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Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

A dump truck and paving equipment sits on the property of Cornelius Stanley at 32 Yarmouth Drive in Nashua Thursday, January 28, 2010.
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fellow travelers

Cornelius V. “Neil” Stanley of Nashua and his family claim the ancient ancestry of Gypsies as their own, according to court records and sources who have worked for them.

“They call themselves gypsies, and they’re awful proud of it, and they will fight over the drop of a hat over it,” one former CVS Paving employee said.

Neil Stanley’s family uses the nickname “Greenmen,” and his son Joseph C. Stanley has the word tattooed on his body, along with “CVS” and “Gypsy Love,” police records show.

Many of the cultural stereotypes are unfair, even racist. Persons of a particular vintage will recall a pop song, “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves.”

The song was a hit for Cher, topping the Billboard top 100 in 1971, and it speaks to the prejudice that the Roma have endured, even in America.

“Quite honestly, the travelers and the gypsies in this country… I call it non-traditional organized crime,” said a law enforcement officer in Florida who specializes in tracking transient scammers.

“There’s two main jobs that the travelers and the gypsies tend to get into, that by and large are not regulated by contracting licenses, and that’s painting and paving,” the officer said.

“A lot of people think of gypsies as criminals,” the officer said. “Not all of them have arrest records. You have to be careful what you say.”

The officer spoke on condition of anonymity, as did both former Stanley employees whom the Telegraph interviewed about their business. Cornelius Stanley has an arrest record in Florida, and the officer had information on him and his family. He argued that the Stanleys would be more traditionally described as descendants of English travelers, not gypsies, but traveler is simply just another word for Romanichals (Roma descendants) from England, Ireland or Scotland.

Sources have described the culture as including a strong disdain toward outsiders and most governmental institutions, including education.

“The gypsies, when they’re born, they don’t go to school. They’re home schooled,” a Manchester man who once worked for CVS Paving said. “They say they’re home schooled, but they’re not; they are home-schooled in the business. By the time they are 12, they know how to operate every piece of equipment like the back of their hand.”

“They try to have as many kids as they can, because it’s more workers for themselves until they’re on their own,” he said.

The Stanley family business is asphalt paving, legit or otherwise. There are Stanley-owned paving companies around the region that enjoy – locally, at least – sterling reputations for fair dealing and quality work. Other family members appear to be devoted almost exclusively to paving scams, and some Stanleys appear to work both ways.

Ben Pequeno of Lincoln, R.I., owned a paving business before giving it up to design and manage Web sites, including www.drivewaytips.com. Asked whether he had heard of a New Hampshire family known for paving scams across the country, Pequeno said, “You must be talking about the Stanleys.”

“I’ve met quite a few of them over the past. It’s a big family,” Pequeno said. “I believe they are probably from coast to coast … they just kind of travel around, targeting different markets,” mainly the elderly, Pequeno said.

“They are capable of doing quality work. They know what the business is all about,” Pequeno said.

They also know how to scam people, by charging for a quality job and then laying down just a thin topcoat.

“I’ve seen some of their work that would be equivalent to what I would have done as a resurface, as an overlay,” Pequeno said. “It’s going to look like new, it’ll look great, but it’s not going to last. It’ll look good until the check clears.”

The paving scam boils down to charging what might be a fair price for top-notch paving work, but delivering shoddy goods. Companies running the scam also tend to dodge taxes, worker’s compensation insurance and other such costs associated with a legitimate business, making it more profitable.

The classic paving scam starts with door-to-door solicitation. The paver often claims to have asphalt left over from another nearby job, and offers repair work at a reasonable rate. Real, reputable paving companies never cruise the streets for jobs.

“There is no such thing as extra asphalt … nobody is going to go out and purchase extra to do your driveway; that’s absurd,” Pequeno said. “Stay away from anybody that knocks on your door selling asphalt.”

Travelling paving crews routinely fill their trucks with asphalt they haven’t yet sold, said former employees.

“That’s all they do; they go around knocking on doors telling people they have extra asphalt. They know what they’re doing,” said a Nashua man who said he worked for CVS Paving in Arizona in 2008. “I thought it was a legitimate company, until after you were there for a while, you could see through the cracks, one and one wasn’t adding up to two.”

“They will go and buy 14 tons of asphalt, not even having a buyer, and they will go and force themselves to sell it,” said the former employee from Manchester. “They call it granny grabbing. This is where they take advantage of the elderly … They will go hunt for the elderly to make their money.”

In addition to elderly homeowners, they target small, independent businesses with parking lots in need of repair, the Manchester man said.

Travelling paving crews will slather a driveway with used crankcase oil, and call it seal coating, the employee said. It will look like seal coating, until the next rain. In cases where a legitimate paving company would lay a deep base of gravel, scammers will simply spread a thin topcoat of asphalt.

A small travelling paving crew can complete around ten such jobs a day, each job grossing $6,000 to $10,000, former employees and law enforcement officials said.

Two former employers said they worked for CVS Paving of Nashua, doing classic paving scams in Arizona and Texas in 2007 and 2008. In both states, the Stanleys were working with other numerous other companies run by relatives from all around the country, the workers said.

“They’re all related,” the Nashua man said. “They’re all across the country… It’s a big family. I know; I’ve met a lot of them.”

Some members of the family run reputable, established businesses in southern New Hampshire, but pull the same scam when they hit the road, former employees said.

The scam isn’t limited to southern states, however. Other family members pull the same stunts here in New Hampshire, using company names that change from year to year, with nothing more concrete behind the business than some trucks, an ad in the Yellow Pages and a mobile phone.

Another former employee from Manchester recalled soliciting a paving job for a motel in Manchester while working for a legitimate, local paving company.

It was going to cost about $15,000 to tear up the parking lot, lay down a proper base, grade and pave it properly. The motel’s owner was ready and willing to pay, until another company arrived the next day, and offered to do the job for $14,000.

The other company was related to family who ran the legitimate business, the former employee said, but the work they performed bore only a superficial resemblance: a skim coat of asphalt over the existing lot.

“They didn’t grade it, didn’t gravel it; nothing,” the former employee said. “For 50 cents more a square foot, we were going to do the whole thing. That was a three day job; it took them a day and a half.”

“She got a $3,000 job; she paid $14,000 for it,” the employee said. “That’s granny grabbing.”

Andrew Wolfe can be reached at 603-594-6410 or awolfe at nashuatelegraph.com.