BOSTON—Just how formidable it can be to find good employees has become excruciatingly clear to Perry Boudreau. He's used to the rough-and-tumble life that comes with operating an inner-city commercial/retail dealership that's open 24 hours a day alongside a busy "Bean Town" expressway. "You get all kinds of riff-raff in the middle of the night," Mr. Boudreau readily admits.
But his recent problems haven't all been of the midnight variety.
He finds himself embroiled in a tangled tale involving alleged embezzlement, threats and witness intimidation—all over a couple of his former employees who are now facing prison sentences. The kicker is: They're married to each other.
Along the way, it has forced Mr. Boudreau—and another dealership that's peripherally involved—to re-examine how potential employees are screened.
>From 1998 to 1999, Mr. Boudreau, owner of Boston Tire Service, employed Andrea Ford, now 41. "When she came in here, she was homeless, unemployed, unmarried and pregnant—almost living on the street," he said. "So we gave her something to do" until her baby was born.
Eventually, she married a sometimes tire-buster, Melvin Ford, 47, who worked for the dealership sporadically over the past 15 years. Mr. Boudreau said Ms. Ford was given various jobs and occasionally helped out in the office until she was fired last year.
After her departure, Boston Tire uncovered evidence that money was missing. Just how much still is being investigated, but the amount could reach $200,000.
James Borghesani, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II, told Tire Business that Ms. Ford has been indicted "for stealing money from the company, after we were notified of bookkeeping irregularities by the owner of the company."
Mr. Boudreau alleges that Ms. Ford "was stealing checks out of the back of the checkbook. We don't know how many yet, because our bookkeeping is not done in-house, so we're assuming the worst and are letting the police do their work."
Because of her credit history, he added, "she couldn't cash a $5 check, so we assume she must have been in cahoots with someone. That's why it's still under investigation."
Ms. Ford, whom Mr. Borghesani said has a history of larceny arrests, was free on bail after being indicted in March for forging checks in the name of other persons while employed at Boston Tire, then either cashing or depositing them. She allegedly wrote checks for amounts as high as $4,500. He said there is no indication yet that any checks were written to her husband.
Melvin Ford, who goes by the name "Calvin," has not been charged in that case, and no longer works for Boston Tire. Since last August, he has been a tire service worker for Hogan Tire & Auto Service Center in Beverly, Mass.
However, his problems really began after his wife's indictment.
Police arrested Mr. Ford April 20 at Hogan Tire. That came after Mr. Boudreau reported his former employee had called Boston Tire twice to leave messages with employees in which Mr. Ford threatened to kill Mr. Boudreau and rape his 18-year-old daughter if the dealer testified against Mr. Ford's wife.
Mr. Ford has been charged with one count each of threats and intimidation of witnesses. Held on $20,000 cash bail after being arraigned in South Boston District Court, he has pleaded innocent.
According to the Suffolk District Attorney's office, Mr. Ford has 55 entries on his criminal record, including a 1974 rape conviction. He faces up to five years in prison for the charge of intimidating witnesses and, if convicted, could receive six additional months on the threats charge.
Despite the menacing calls, Mr. Boudreau has not been dissuaded from testifying against Ms. Ford, Mr. Borghesani said.
During a phone interview with Tire Business that was punctuated by a constantly ringing phone and calls from employees working the dealership's service trucks, Mr. Boudreau seemed to be taking the turn of events in stride.
"It's very complicated, and we still have it under investigation," he said, "but we don't think Calvin really had anything to do with the stolen checks. It was his wife."
Mr. Boudreau has known Mr. Ford off and on for 15 years. "We're not afraid of him. He was just rambling off at the mouth. He's not a threat to us. It was just drunk talk. We've known Calvin too long."
While there is no court order keeping Mr. Ford away from the dealership, Mr. Boudreau isn't worried. "If he comes within 50 feet of my house, I've got my own `restraining order.'"
The Fords both faced separate court appearances May 2.
"We're open 24 hours, so we get a lot of guys who come and go, work part-time here and there," Mr. Boudreau explained. "Help's hard to get, so you put up with a lot of these guys." Many "aren't rocket scientists, not college-educated employees," he added.
"This is downtown, the city, man. We're not afraid of threats. This is a tough area."
Perhaps "tough" doesn't begin to describe it.
About a month or so ago, Boston Tire was the scene of a shooting. Two customers came in around midnight to get a tire changed. Someone who knew them was driving by the service bay, stopped, came into the dealership and a gun battle ensued.
One man was killed; the other received several gunshot wounds.
The shooter fled and has not been apprehended, though Mr. Boudreau said police know who he is. "My guys were alright. It wasn't robbery—there's nothing much to steal in this place."
After the shooting, he immediately called the families of the slain man and the wounded customer to see if there was anything the company could do. "They weren't surprised (about the incident). It wasn't the first time these guys had been in trouble."
But to make matters worse, Mr. Boudreau now is being sued by the wounded man. Still, it hasn't made him rethink staying open all night.
"What can you do? Help is so damned difficult to get.... If I wanted to grow this business, I wouldn't be able to.... I can't take on any more business because I can't hire help to support it."
The dealership, which is about 80 percent commercial, employs a dozen workers over three shifts. Mr. Boudreau estimated annual sales of "over $1 million."
Boston Tire operates a small retread shop that does under 100 truck tires per week, performs section repairs for off-road and giant earthmover tires, and also handles some major new-tire brands, all supplied through wholesalers. To cater to clientele who come in off the freeway in the middle of the night needing a quick fix, it also sells used tires.
"We pay cash for everything we buy," Mr. Boudreau said. "It eliminates billing at the end of the month and allows for discounts, good prices and service."
While he's taking the alleged embezzlement seriously, "it didn't hurt us that much, " he said. "We're still bangin' away."
Mr. Boudreau already has testified twice before a grand jury in the Andrea Ford case. And although he hasn't taken her husband's threats all that seriously, he said he explained to his former tire buster: "It's one thing to threaten me. But when you make threats to my employees, I've got to respond to it. You can't do that."
"When Calvin's working, there's nobody better," he said. "He can really change a tire. That kid'll do any size tire. He's good, friendly, great with the people. He's just his own worst enemy when he gets a paycheck."
Meanwhile, at Hogan Tire in Beverly, manager David Palermo said Mr. Ford's employment status "is kind of in limbo."
He described the troubled tire changer as "an excellent employee. He got along well with the other workers here and myself, was reliable and a good worker. But I guess he had his problems. You never know."
What the dealership did not know about was Mr. Ford's criminal record.
"We were unaware of that," Mr. Palermo said. "With the state of the employment situation here, you're lucky to get anybody.
"So no, we never did a background check on him. Maybe it's a good idea."
The five-bay store, one of five Hogan Tire outlets, has two tire technicians, two mechanics and an alignment tech. As far as Mr. Ford's continuing employment there, his boss said he'd likely have to be replaced "if he's going to be out for any length of time."
Would the man's recent problems preclude him from getting another chance at Hogan Tire?
Mr. Palermo thought about it for a moment, then replied: "If he did get out and got himself straightened out, we could try and find him a spot somewhere. . . . From his past record with us, yes, we'd be willing to give him another chance."