Company tips off member to hidden camera investigation

hemmat applewood

DENVER — We thought we had caught all of the deception on hidden camera after we confronted plumbing and heating technicians overcharging us for a minor repair on a water heater that just about anybody could fix.

We even busted a repairman breaking our water heater, apparently on purpose just so he could charge us $1,753.

But then we discovered we had been deceived by Plumbline services, the company we trusted to help us set up our test.

They disconnected a hose on our water heater so we could see which other companies would charge us a fair price to plug it back in.

After our story aired, we received several news tips accusing Plumbline of tipping off Applewood Plumbing, the company we thought “passed our test with flying colors,” because their technician was the only one who re-connected the hose for free.

At first we found the allegation hard to believe, after all why would Plumbline tip off their competitor, Applewood? But then we confirmed the two companies belong to the same marketing and training group, “NexStar,” and as part of their membership they share information.

We when we confronted Plumbline, the owner, Jeff Belk, came clean.

“In no way, shape or form were we trying to do anything malicious or hurtful to you or anybody,” he said.

But Applewood initially denied any prior knowledge of our test.

The company later sent us a statement saying it “had heard from a number of sources that a sting story was in the works.”

Still, an Applewood representative insists even if they did know about the test, (the technician) “would not have handled that call any differently with prior knowledge or not.”

Rick Nierman disagrees.

Nierman told us Applewood tried to charge him more than $700 for a part her later bought at a hardware store for just over $45.

He is just one of dozens of viewers who emailed or called us following our first story, claiming they had been overcharged by Applewood.

Jeff Metz, owner of Done plumbing, was shocked that Plumbline let Applewood in on our investigation.

“That`s not fair at all,” he said.

Done is one of only four companies that legitimately passed our test. The other companies are: ARS, Heating Tech and Whipple.

We tried to test AAA Services plumbing, but when we called the company we were told they didn’t have a technician available until mid-March.

We called back with a different number and address and a dispatcher said they could come out “right away.”

We have since learned AAA Service is also a NexStar member and had been tipped off to our test.

Here are the Colorado Plumbing and heating companies that belong to NexStar:

  • Golden West Plumbing: did not return our call inquiring if their technicians make commission.
  • AAA Service Plumbing: refused to tell us if their technicians make commission.
  • Dunlap Plumbing: technicians make a salary, plus “incentives.”
  • Applewood: technicians make commission.
  • Plumbline: technicians make commission.
  • Precision Plumbing, heating and Electric: technicians make an hourly salary plus “bonuses.”
  • Patriot Enterprises: did not return our call inquiring if their technicians make commission.
  • Grand Lake Plumbing: technicians do not make commission.
  • Wieronski Plumbing and Heating: did not return our call inquiring if their technicians make commission.