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Watchdog column: Jackson County woman says floor installers stole jewelry

By Gabe Semenza
Oct. 19, 2011 at 5:19 a.m.
Updated Oct. 20, 2011 at 5:20 a.m.


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To submit questions, e-mail watchdog@vicad.com or call Advocate Public Service Editor Gabe Semenza at 361-580-6519. No topic is off-limits.

Polly Grudzieski and her Jackson County family grew excited about their country home as workers installed the first planks of a new floor.

The family's excitement, however, turned to disappointment and then anger once Grudzieski, a 47-year-old wife, mother and business owner, learned some of her expensive jewelry was missing.

Now, Grudzieski said, she wants others in the Crossroads to know the risks of inviting strangers into your home, especially when they perform work you are unable to supervise.

"I feel violated," she said. "I want people to know that if you have to have work done on your house, you better baby sit workers or put up all your valuables."

The Grudzieskis had the flooring installed the day after Labor Day. Work lasted about a week.

One day, the mother returned home from work to a strange feeling. "I felt like something was going to be missing," she said.

She went to her master bathroom and to a jar in which she stores jewelry. She knew right away what was missing: a $3,000 one-carat diamond solitaire ring, a $100 watch and a $300 mother's ring, which held each of her four children's birthstones.

Grudzieski immediately called the flooring company. "Look," she said. "We have a problem here. If you give me my stuff back, I'll pay you."

The family purchased the flooring from Victoria's CRT Flooring Concepts on East Mockingbird Lane. Grudzieski's bill was about $8,000, she said.

CRT, however, farmed the work out - a common practice among flooring providers - to Suarez Floor Service, an independent installation contractor. Therefore, no CRT employees were inside the Grudzieski home, the company said.

Once Grudzieski complained, the solitaire ring wound up in an envelope placed inside the tool box owned by Cruz Suarez, owner of Suarez Floor Service.

"This is very frustrating," Suarez said. "It has been on my mind every single day. I just wish it would go away, but the sheriff's office is investigating, and it will get to the bottom of this."

Suarez emphasized he did not steal the jewelry, but he declined to disclose the names and number of employees who worked on Grudzieski's flooring, citing the ongoing Jackson County Sheriff's Office investigation.

It should be noted Suarez has been in business since 1984. He is widely praised and used by many in the flooring industry. He also boasts a clean record with the Better Business Bureau.

It is therefore feasible one of his employees betrayed him, CRT Flooring Concepts executives said.

Those executives, meanwhile, said they will not work with Suarez Floor Service until the investigation is complete, and only if they are confident nothing like this will happen in the future.

"I've got a good reputation, and everyone I've done work for knows that," Suarez said. "This hasn't ever happened to me before."

Curt Gabrysch, chief deputy of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, said no formal charges have been filed, but the office obviously has suspects.

"We're investigating this as we speak," Gabrysch said this week. "We know some items were stolen and some of those were recovered."

It's common for homeowners to leave houses unattended while companies perform work inside. And while it's probably fair to say most workers don't steal, when they allegedly do, it's best to review how to protect yourself.

Erin Rodriguez, an Austin spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, offered the following tips by email:

Do your research. Visit www.BBB.org to review a company before doing business with it. Seek word-of-mouth referrals, too.

Check if the company is bonded and/or insured. Selecting a licensed and insured company will help to protect you and your home if something goes wrong, is misplaced or stolen.

Get everything in writing. Never agree to have work begin until you have a signed contract detailing what services will be done, and for what costs.

Of course, law enforcement reminds you to always ask if the company you hire farms out work so that you can research the third-party contractor.

"In the future, I would take off work and stay home or only allow workers inside when I'm home from work," Grudzieski said. "I'd definitely hide my valuables."

Gabe Semenza is the public service editor for the Advocate.

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