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'Bandera Brand' - boon or boondoggle?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

"For most of my life I have worked for someone else. However, owning your own business is a whole different thing," said Sam Consalvi in an interview on Thursday, Feb. 2. "I made some bad business decisions. My pricing was off, the economy went south and postage and gas increased. I had a poor business plan." He added, "Many businesses (in Bandera) have probably gone into bankruptcy."

In the interview, Consalvi tried to explain away several adverse Internet stories about his previous publishing endeavors. Currently, he is soliciting advertisements for a proposed "The Bandera Brand" magazine, scheduled to debut in March.

The Courier's involvement in the matter began when a Courier advertiser brought in his contract with Consalvi for Publisher Gail Joiner to peruse.

Explaining the ongoing success of scams in general, Cpl. Danny Sanchez of the BCSO Criminal Investigation Division told the Courier, "Con artists continue to get away with their scams because people are too embarrassed to admit they've been duped."

Phone book failures

Internet reports of Consalvi's previous publications in Idaho, Washington State and Oregon have been less than stellar.

On May 16, 2011, Tami Tremblay with 2NEWS.TV, in Boise, Idaho, reported about a business owner in Homedale, Idaho, who alleged that Consalvi had scammed her with a phone book pitch.

Eventually, the station's investigative team tracked down Consalvi, but garnered little resolution. Ultimately, the business owner contacted the Better Business Bureau and the Idaho Attorney General about her problem.

Another article by Tremblay, dated Nov. 17, 2011, offered an update on the Community Phone Book, published by Consalvi's Sector Marketing. The article implied that Sector Marketing had gone out of business in June.

According to the article, however, business owners continued to be charged for advertisements "that were never made."

Debra Jolly, owner of Owyhee Ice Cream, told Tremblay she never saw the phone book - just a poorly done online version - after paying $250 for an advertisement.

Advertisers who attempted to contact Consalvi about the problems said their calls were not returned.

Credit card problems

When Paula Roberts of Council, Idaho, lodged a complaint to another Consalvi company via email, she received a notice that "on June 6, the Middle-Star Community Phone Book is no longer in business." However, according to Roberts, on August 23, the company attempted to access another $499 from her credit card account. Before finally cancelling her credit card, Roberts successfully disputed an accumulated $1,200 in charges.

According to the report, the local Better Business Bureau didn't rank Sector Marketing because "the company was apparently no longer in business." However, several complaints had been filed against the now-defunct company.

Additionally, the Emmett Messenger Index in Emmett, Idaho, carried a story about local businesses that had advertised in "The Gem County Spotlight: Gem County's Local Magazine," also slated for publication by Consalvi's Sector Marketing. According to the article, posted Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, the business owners believed "the project had been abandoned as they had been unable to contact anyone at the magazine."

'The Bandera Brand'

Fast forward to Bandera. According to Cerise Ripps, executive administrator of the Bandera County Chamber of Commerce, in early January, she fielded a phone call from a man, subsequently identified as Consalvi, who asked her if Bandera would be a good market to start a magazine.

"I told him no, because there's two newspapers in Bandera and people here don't read much," Ripps said in an interview.

Later, when Consalvi appeared at the Chamber office on Main Street to pitch his idea, Ripps reiterated her contention. "I said the project seemed like a good idea, but that Bandera would not be a good place for it." She also disavowed Chamber involvement in the project.

However, by this time, Consalvi was apparently already selling ads for "The Bandera Brand."

Consalvi said the magazine would eventually grow into a 32-page full color glossy publication mailed free of charge to every household in Bandera County. However, he indicated to a potential advertiser that the first few incarnations might have fewer pages.

'Ran out of money'

About this time, Ripps received a call from a Chamber member, who had accessed online articles that, according to Ripps, had led the member to conclude that Consalvi was untrustworthy. The Chamber member called the Bandera County Sheriff's Office, seeking advice.

"She said a deputy from the sheriff's office told her that no criminal charges had been filed against Consalvi, but that he had declared bankruptcy three times. The deputy also said there might have been some civil complaints filed against him," Ripps said. "The deputy said there was no cause for the sheriff's office to be involved."

In his interview with the Courier, Consalvi indicated he had never filed for bankruptcy.

During a subsequent meeting with Ripps, Consalvi convinced her of his good intentions, blaming his previous business woes on a series of bad breaks. "He told me he was not a con and that he totally intended to do the magazine (in Idaho), but just ran out of money."

Ask for references

In a mass email to Chamber members on Jan. 11, Ripps wrote: "Sam Consalvi is selling ads in the area for 'The Bandera Brand,' a new magazine project. While I've met Sam, he hasn't yet joined the Chamber and the magazine is not associated with our organization.

"I personally believe that Bandera County could use this publication. I plan to be a contributing writer (on my own time) and I'd like to see Sam succeed. However, he just moved here from Idaho and I've only met him twice, so I can't vouch for or against him."

She then advised members that before doing business with someone unfamiliar "...commonsense dictates that you check them out through the Better Business Bureau and by asking for references from former clients."

When a potential advertiser with The Bandera Brand asked for references, Consalvi replied, "Talk to Cerise at the Chamber. She knows all about me."

When queried as to whether her Chamber duties might include looking out for the welfare of the membership, Ripps said, "No, that's not what the Chamber does. It's a membership-based marketing organization."

Luckily, Dian Streeby with the Gem County Chamber of Commerce thought differently. Tremblay quoted her as saying, "He came to town, Sam did. He went to a few businesses and a lot of times they'll call and say is this legit?"

When Streeby's investigations turned up suspect publishing practices, she prudently put out a warning to the Chamber members.

'The Fine Print'

Additionally, local business owners who bothered to read Consalvi's advertising contract in its entirety found some inclusions alarming. After glancing at the aptly named section called "The Fine Print," one healthcare provider advised his staff, "Never let that man in this office again!"

"The Fine Print" not only essentially gives Consalvi the right not to do anything promised in his sales pitch, but also leaves the advertiser with essentially no recourse.

Regarding the publisher's rights, the contract states: "The publisher retains the right to, without notification, extend or reduce the publishing and-or delivery date, change book-magazine-electronic format or layout, change distribution area and-or method of delivery and, due to changing economic and-or social circumstances, place advertisers and-or listings into other media, both physical and-or electronic owned by the publisher or publishers assignors.

"If an error or omission of advertising(s) or listing(s) occur whether [sic] or not due to publishers [sic] negligence, in no instance will the publisher be liable for damages in excess of the cost of the paid advertisement(s) or listing(s).

"No damages will be liable to publisher for errors in advertisment(s) and-or listing(s) for unpaid contract items. Nor will publisher be held liable for delays-errors in publication(s) and-or error(s)-delays in delivery. All damages shall be paid in the form of credit for advertising in the following edition of the publishers [sic] products not to exceed what advertiser actually paid publisher."

The paid advertisements were to be placed in the hard copy "The Bandera Brand," as well as on the electronic "Bandera Brand" Facebook page.

Reimburse Idaho advertisers

As Ripps noted, "I want to believe the best in people. It was difficult to get a read on Mr. Consalvi, but I really thought he wanted to get a fresh start and do things right."

As one local business owner, who subsequently declined to advertise in "The Bandera Brand," pointed out, however, "The last magazine Consalvi failed to publish was due out in December - just a month ago. Did he 'turn his life around' on the drive to Texas? If he really wants to make things right, why doesn't he go back to Idaho and return the money to the people he bilked?"

When pointed questions about Idaho advertisers who received nothing for their hard-earned dollars were raised, Consalvi became defensive saying, "I can tell you're not very happy we're here and will do all you can to see us fail. I can see the kind of article you're going to write. I will sleep with a clear conscience tonight. I don't know about you."

For its part, after awakening from its sound sleep, the Courier responds: "Caveat emptor."

Pictured: Publisher Sam Consalvi holds up a mock-up of "The Bandera Brand," a new magazine set to debut locally in March. A similar magazine in Emmett, Idaho, "The Gem County Spotlight" never made it to advertisers' doors.

Previous information from KBOI TV in Boise, Idaho: copy and paste the link in your browser to view the newscast.