Saturday, August 6, 2011

Legislature Averts Mistake

I was surfing around the web in an attempt to located a few old skeletons and found this gem hidden in the back pages somewhere: Florida Lawmakers Move to Repeal Buyer Protections. From the article:
They targeted ballroom dance instructors who preyed on lonely widows, a car repair industry that topped the state's consumer complaint list and sketchy movers holding possessions hostage for higher fees.
Ballroom dance instructors? Really? I'm incredulous.
With deregulation fever sweeping the state Capitol, movers, dance studios and car mechanics are among more than a dozen professions — many with checkered histories — included in a controversial bill reducing business licensing requirements.
Checkered history my grandmother's venochie. Let me tell you a little about that 'checkered' history.

I was 21 when I started in the dance business (teaching ballroom dancing) and I went to work for the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Toledo, Ohio.  After about ten months I was fired, mainly because I wasn't a homosexual and would not be converted by the staff and manager, all of whom were more than a little light in the loafers.  I went to work down the street for a rival franchise, Fred Astaire Dance Studio and the one thing they wanted to know was did I have a girlfriend.  I did, in fact, have three at the time.  They hired me and I stayed for a year or so before I got the itch to travel.  I headed to Florida for a few months where I met James R. Banta, President of Arthur Murray, Inc. and owner of about 30 dance studios across the country.  He and his wife Leona invited me and my girlfriend Migraine One over to their mansion in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I learned that Jim and Leona had the Arthur Murray logo engraved on their doors, that they had two artificial hills in their front yard and that they were self-proclaimed good and honest people.  Jim Banta was a small man, about 5'10" or so, maybe 135 with rocks in his pockets.  He was affable and easy going.  Jim offered us a job at a studio he owned in Colorado Springs, Colorado and we accepted.  This is the same studio that is mentioned in his obituary (here's the obituary):
The last of the Bantas` dance studio franchises was sold in Colorado Springs, Colo., last year, [Jim's son] Bradford Banta said.
Indeed, and I know why it was the last to go.

I was about 24 years old when I headed West to Colorado Springs with Migraine One riding shotgun.  Once I arrived and started work at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Colorado Springs I damned near got more than I bargained for.  For openers the studio was on the second floor in a building at the edge of the downtown area.  There was a greasy spoon on the first floor and a four star restaurant across the street.  Physically, the studio looked a little strange to me.  You walked up the stairs and into the ballroom, which was normal, but then there were a dozen small rooms all around the perimeter of the ballroom, each having a door with a lock on it.  One of the rooms had a shower in it, but since the shower leaked into the kitchen of the restaurant it couldn't be used.  I worked there about a month before it dawned on me just exactly what had been here before: a massage parlor.  Colorado Springs is a military town, and I was working in what used to be a whore house.  Wonderful.  Now, I didn't know much about business back then, but even I could understand that having a dance studio in a closed up whore house was not going to be good for business.  And, by the way, Jim Banta knew about this situation and let it continue.

The students at Arthur Murray's were mainly women with an average age of about 70 and somewhere between 1000 and 3000 hours of instruction remaining.  That's right, I had a dozen or so old ladies, each with well over 1000 hours left to service out.  When I asked about this situation I was told that the previous owner of the franchise (whose name I don't remember) sold a bunch of lessons all in one year, maxed out his credit all over town - and by that I mean all over town, Arthur Murray's couldn't get credit anywhere and the existing debts remained unpaid - and then this entrepreneur packed his dance shoes and stole away quietly into the night.  Contractually, Arthur Murray, Inc. in Miami, Florida was liable to service out the lessons, but it took them two years and a credible threat from the attorney general of Colorado to get them to reopen the studio, which they finally did but in a new location - the deserted brothel.  The amount of liability in untaught lessons was staggering.  Even if a student took three hours a week in private lessons, that's over six years of lessons for 1000 hours of instruction remaining.  Most took one or two hours per week, and so were not likely to live long enough to actually use all the lessons they bought.  As president of Arthur Murray, Inc. Jim Banta either knew this situation was going on and approved of it, or should have known it was going on and was remiss in his duty to prevent it.

Then there was the current manager who was personally interviewed and hired by Jim Banta.  Dave Calle had been in the dance business for over twenty years and had a personal history that went back to the bad old days.  He knew several people from that era, including Mister San Diego who, coincidentally, I knew pretty well.  One afternoon I made a phone call on the Q.T. and asked San Diego about Calle and his history.  Uncharacteristically San Diego hedged around a little, which was not like him at all.  I continued to press for information.  Finally he told me that "There's nothing really wrong with hiring a guy like that, but you have to keep an eye on him."

"Keep an eye on him?  What do you mean, keep an eye on him?"

"Well, you just gotta keep an eye on him, that's all.  Hey, what the fuck, right?  Keep an eye on him."

I thanked him and hung up the phone.  I pondered this for a few days, then I nosed around a little, aided and abetted by Migraine One who loves to discover dirty laundry.  I'm not kidding about this, either.  She really gets off on it.  Anyway, I discovered that Calle was selling stock in a corporation named Acme One to the students in the studio.  Since I didn't know anything about stock I made another phone call, this time to my attorney Art Cline, the main attorney of what was then Cline, Bishoff and Cook, Attorneys at Law.  I spoke with Art for twenty minutes or so and learned that all corporations have to be registered to be legitimate, and I also learned who to call in Denver, Colorado to find out if the corporation in question was actually legitimate or not.  Surprise, surprise - Acme One turned out to be a figment of someone's imagination, which made the sale of stock in Acme One fraud.  That's a crime, by the way.  Then I called James Banta in Florida and told him what was going on. 

James complemented me on my probity and intestinal fortitude, and told me that he'd be sending his son Brad down to handle the problem.  He did, too, as Brad arrived the next day and fired poor Dave Calle without warning.  Then the county prosecutor's office got involved, and after talking to Calle for several hours the prosecutor stated that, "I deal with this kind of person every day, and after talking to David Calle for four hours I couldn't believe he'd actually done anything wrong.  He's good."  However, hard evidence is hard evidence.  The prosecutor did a basic background check on Calle and discovered, much to his surprised, that there were four outstanding warrants out for David Calle's arrest in Houston, Texas.  The charge?  Fraud.  It seems that this was not the first time Calle ever pulled a stunt like this one and got caught at it.

This kind of crime is much rarer today than it used to be, but the people are not.  Confidence men still exist, and although the law won't stop them before the fact it will make arrest and prosecution possible after the fact.  Any legislator who wants to remove buyer protections doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, or doesn't care.  Either way you look at it, that is one legislator that should be replaced as soon as possible.


Sevesteen said...

This sounds a lot like "It's for the Chiiiildrun!". Licensing isn't the way to go here--we already require licenses for really silly stuff, like flower arranging, selling seeds, or weighing dairy products. Or children's lemonade stands. The fraud should be illegal, and likely is anyhow without the license, and I don't see what the license would accomplish.

Mad Jack said...

I don't see what the license would accomplish.

That's because you're blind in one eye and can't see out of the other. It isn't the license that the misguided legislature is objecting to; it's the regulation that goes along with it. For a real world example check the deregulation of the banking industry and the Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac train wreck.

Sevesteen said...

Using the mortgage crisis as an example of insufficient regulation is like using Chicago as an example of effective gun control. Fannie and Freddie should never have been created, should never have been given their semi-private, semi-public status, never should have been bailed out. Banks should have been left to loan based on creditworthiness.