10/23/12 3:05pm

HILLCROFT HOUSTON CELL PHONE SNATCHING THROUGH THE ROOF Here’s a view from earlier today of the ceiling inside Rizwan Siddiqi’s Cell Phone Wholesale shop at 3633 Hillcroft. Shortly before 4 this morning, a thief dropped into the store and grabbed as many as 80 smartphones before climbing back out the way he came, through the roof. Surveillance video shows the phoneburglar missing on his first attempt to jump back into the plenum space, hitting the display case before crashing back onto the floor. A tall stool placed on top of the case eventually allowed a gentler exit. The shop is carved out of one side of the Valero In-N-Out store at the corner of Windswept. [abc13] Photo: Phillip Mena/Click2Houston

10/17/12 1:31pm

An investor in a possibly nonexistent real-estate venture headed by his friend Billy Frank Davis tells Chronicle reporter Mike Tolson that Davis didn’t let on to his friends that other friends had also invested with him: “He didn’t want word of mouth. Bill’s image was always the most important thing to him. He always portrayed himself as a very successful and wealthy person. Everybody thought Bill had money.” On Monday, the disbarred attorney pled guilty to a single count of wire fraud in connection with a Ponzi scheme that bilked his friends and golfing buddies at the Champions Golf Club, the River Oaks Country Club, and the Braeburn Country Club out of $7.8 million. According to Tolson’s report, however, the losses may have been much higher than that.


10/09/12 12:35pm

COUNTY ATTORNEY STRIPS BIKINI OFF FM 1960 STRIP CENTER BABES In the suit filed yesterday against the operator of strip club Babes North at 10610 FM 1960 just east of Jones Rd., Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan accuses the club, formerly known as the Bikini Wing Bar, of flouting the laws governing sexually oriented businesses. “Babes is not a bikini bar. It is a topless and bottomless den of prostitution and drug dealing.” Notably, the lawsuit is also directed at the owners of the pad site in the Cypress Plaza Shopping Center, PJM Properties — for not taking reasonable measures to prevent criminal activity on its premises. [Cypress Creek Mirror] Photo: Click2Houston

08/27/12 5:50pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THOSE KIDS “. . . Let me be clear. I know exactly where I live and knew where I was moving to 8 years ago. And contrary to what assumptions have been made, I love where I live and am proud of where I live. I love the history behind it. There are great people who live in all parts of this neighborhood all the way down the street to where crack is being sold. When I read this article the first thing that pops into my head is ‘park=kids=hangout.’ I am actually glad that they’re doing what they’re doing instead of putting up yet another apartment complex. The more green and conservation and beautification, the better. A park is a park, meaning where people will congregate which also means kids. Understand that when I posted this comment, I was fresh off of witnessing kids stealing a man’s phone and he being helpless to get it back. And the kids live in this neighborhood. Which just refreshed my memory of my neighbor getting his windows busted out while driving to his house by kids that live in this neighborhood who thought it would be fun to throw rocks at cars driving down the street. I think to when I was riding my scooter and kids that live in this neighborhood thought it would be fun to throw rocks at me while I was driving down the street almost causing me to wreck. I am aware that crime happens in every neighborhood. And despite the 3 instances I just wrote about I have no desire to move. I am happy to see historical sites preserved. In fact there were plans to pave some of the streets here, including mine. As many broken peices of brick there that makes it a pain on any car to drive over, the bricks are staying and will be preserved and I’m so glad! . . .” [Holly, commenting on New Fourth Ward Park of the Open Church]

07/30/12 1:23pm

That new helpful “what to do if a crazed gunman starts shooting up your workplace” video posted last week by Houston’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security features the city’s new Washington Ave Permitting Center in a starring role, along with a cast of cleaned-up would-be plan checkers and health officials — and a bald, cold-blooded shooter wearing dark glasses and toting a menacing backpack. The gunman starts by offing a security guard and a bystander at the lobby elevators behind the receptionist’s desk, then works his way into various city departments. The video was completed 2 weeks before the recent well-publicized attack on theatergoers in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were killed and 58 injured. DHS’s advice for permit officers or anyone stuck in an office that finds itself suddenly transformed into a scene out of an action movie: Run. If you can’t run, hide. And if you can’t hide, fight. Here’s the scene:


07/20/12 1:41pm

The robbers who held up a couple of IBC Bank locations inside Houston-area Kroger stores in 2 separate incidents over the last few months won’t have those branches to kick around any more. The IBC Bank in the Kroger at 11565 Hwy. 6 South in Sugar Land (at the corner of West Airport) and the one in the store at 3135 FM 528 and Bay Area Blvd. in Friendswood (featured in the surveillance video still above) have now been shut down — along with 2 other in-Kroger locations. The closings weren’t a direct result of the robberies, but part of International Bancshares Corp.’s plan to close up grocery-store locations — which have grown unprofitable as a result of new restrictions on bank fees — and open a few more standalone branches. IBC closed 20 Houston-area grocery-store branches — 19 in H-E-B Markets and another inside a Randall’s — last December.

Photo of suspect in Friendswood Kroger IBC Bank: Bay Area Citizen

07/05/12 1:46pm

For the last 7 or so years, the atomic-ranch-era front of this 1929 bungalow at 1710 Welch St. served as the Scott Childress Studio, a hair salon. If you recognize that name, you likely know at least the outline of the rest of the story that goes with it: Childress was found on the floor of the property one Friday morning this past January, beaten to death with a pipe wrench; his roommate, Reginald Eaglin, was charged with the murder. The home was listed for sale in late February, but there’s a contract pending now. How that ends likely depends on a planning commission hearing scheduled for this afternoon. Up for approval: plans by Carnegie Homes to replace the modern-front house and the 2 apartments behind it — all on 7,500 sq. ft. — with 4 townhome lots along a central drive.

Photo: HAR

06/14/12 2:11pm

ALLEN STANFORD’S NEXT CENTURY R. Allen Stanford, the former Houston real estate investor who made it to the big time before being convicted earlier this year of heading up a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, could be spending the next turn-of-the-century in federal prison — if he works it right. The former chairman of the Stanford Financial Group has been imprisoned since June 2009. In a Downtown Houston courtroom today, after Stanford maintained he “didn’t defraud anybody,” U.S. District Judge David Hittner sentenced him  to 110 years. [L.A. Times; ; previously on Swamplot]

05/31/12 11:23pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A LIKELY STORY “Exact same thing happens every time I list my garage apartment on the MLS. Someone grabs the info and posts it to craigslist. I’ve always thought these folks are misguided but legitimate Realtors using it as a way to lure apartment seekers who don’t already have their own agent. They see the ad on CL, call the ‘agent’ and she takes them to the property and collects the buyers-side commission. However, it could be more of the scenario that Katie P describes, which is much more malicious. Earlier this year, I got a knock on my door from a person who wanted to see the apartment, even though the MLS [listing] had been removed a few weeks prior. He was not too pleased to find out the property was long gone. I found the ad on craigslist and called ‘agent Samantha’ to find out more about the property she listed. She was more than just a little flustered and told me that she wasn’t sure what properties her assistant had posted to craigslist. After a few minutes I informed her that the property was no longer available and she needed to remove the ad.” [Kepdogg, commenting on The MLS Rental Scam Going on Now in the Heights]

05/30/12 11:48pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN EVERYBODY WANTS TO RENT OUT YOUR HOUSE “Your Realtor should know about this. It is not uncommon. It happens regularly to MLS listings. A friend of mine in Meyerland had the same thing happen. It seems they wait until the MLS rental listing status shows pending or leased, which often means the Realtor’s sign is gone from the yard, but the house might still be vacant for 30 days or so until a legit tenant moves in. That’s their window. In my friend’s case the scammer went as far as to look up his name on HCAD and get a g-mail email address that made sense. Same song and dance: he was in London on business; below market rent, etc. The police, FBI, etc. will not do anything. The scammers are usually not local. The scammers sit at their PC’s all day long and do this over and over and over looking for that one gullible renter who will send a deposit to a complete stranger via Western Union. It’s hard to believe it ever actually works, but I guess if you do it enough times, someone will fall for it. The best thing to do is leave the Realtor’s sign in the yard until someone takes occupancy. That should be a giant waving red flag for anyone who shows up to look at the house. If you want to go a bit further, leave a note on the front door saying something along the lines of, ‘Don’t be a victim of online scams. This house is already leased’ or ‘Don’t be a victim of online scams, the only way to lease this house is to call XYZ at (xxx) xxx-xxxx.'” [Bernard, commenting on The MLS Rental Scam Going on Now in the Heights]

05/30/12 10:59am

How do you discover that the house you’re renting out has become the focus of a scam? Well, If the scam’s targets show up on your doorstep, that’s one clue. The owners of the Heights home on Rutland St. pictured above found themselves in that situation last night. So this morning one of them sent Swamplot this tale, hoping readers will have some helpful advice to offer:

We recently bought a bigger house in the Heights and listed our current house for rent on the MLS. All went well (had a lease signed with a great tenant in just three days!) until last night. This friendly couple rang the doorbell and told me that they had been texting with the owner of the house for a week about renting it. She told them she was on a mission trip in Washington DC and couldn’t show them the house right away, but that they should come by the house and look in the windows. If they liked what they saw they were to send her a deposit check. I was flummoxed since I am the owner and had signed a lease two weeks earlier with someone else. I had heard about this happening with rentals listed on Craigslist but didn’t think the scammers would take it to this level. They had posted fraudulent listings on several sites, including Trulia.com and HotPads.com. They listed it for less rent than the real posting and said we’d take dogs and cats.


05/23/12 10:07am

If this West U mansion on Buffalo Speedway brings to mind a game of Clue, chalk it up to its interior layout — and its inadvertent role in a jewelry pilfering attempt by a house-hunting poseur earlier this year.

As with the classic board game, the listing identifies each room by its function. There’s a Music Room. A Loggia. Even a Billiards Room. It was in a Bedroom back in January, however, that an unassuming early guest at an open house allegedly rummaged through a jewelry drawer. He left quickly and empty-handed, but first  “body-slammed” the sales agent who had interrupted him. An account of the incident that appeared in the Village News at the time (no longer online, unfortunately) said the perp, believed to have been working high-end open houses in 2 cities, was quickly ID’d, due in part to a fast-and-furious word-of-mouth campaign among Houston-area Realtors to name him and flush-out his whereabouts — and to remind fellow agents to be careful when showing properties.

The upshot? Don’t be surprised one of these days if you’re asked to show an ID and pose for a cell phone photo at a slightly less open open house. No ID required for this tour, though:


05/17/12 3:03pm

NOT-SO-LOCAL TREASURES ON THE WESTHEIMER STRIP Included in the lawsuit filed yesterday by Houston and Harris County attorneys against the owners of Treasures, which labels the Westheimer strip club a public nuisance and attempts to shut it down: allegations that the venue is a site of “human trafficking” — of dancers from Vegas. From Cindy George’s report: “The trafficking allegations stem from police probes revealing that some of the dancers are transported from Nevada to Texas, then from club to club within Houston, and reside in Galleria- area apartments and condos ‘where they are maintained by the pimps,’ [city attorney David] Feldman said at a news conference. . . . ‘They masquerade as legitimate businesses, but these high-end strip clubs like Treasures really are hubs of human trafficking,’ he said, later noting that the establishment averages $20 million in annual alcohol sales. ‘Treasures happens to be the most prominent of these clubs. It’s the largest. It is clearly the most visible and most notable and prominent. . . . We are hopeful that with this action, we serve notice not only on Treasures, but the other clubs out there that Houston-Harris County is not going to put up with this type of criminal activity.'” [Houston Chronicle]

05/16/12 10:41am

Sure, it’s a temporary fix, but it does make those shot-out glass panels on the brand-new Apple Store in Houston’s Highland Village Shopping Center look all clean and sleek again — if not a little gun-shy. The shattered panel above the Westheimer Rd. entrance has been smoothed over with a covering of adhesive black film. For symmetry’s sake, the film has been applied to the adjacent panel as well, to frame out a new large Apple logo decal in the center. The new decal stands in for the now obscured glowing Apple logo fixture that hangs in the same location just behind the window:


05/03/12 11:00am

How well does a store built of structural glass hold up under gunfire? Probably better than your typical plate-glass storefront — though the repair costs are likely to be higher. A reader sends Swamplot this photo showing the smaller of 2 glass panels damaged by bullets earlier this week at the brand-new Apple Store in Houston’s Highland Village Shopping Center. Between the hours of 4:40 and 5:40 Monday morning someone in a vehicle speeding down Westheimer shot at 5 businesses, including 2 gas stations and the Cantoni furniture showroom past Gessner. No one was injured. Apple Store customers were routed to the building’s rear entrance after it opened for business, according to Click2Houston reporter Courtney Zavala.

Views of the damage from the outside, from Monday’s TV report: