Angle Heart

Scottsdale's Greg Crane calls himself an entrepreneur. Prosecutors in three states call him a grifter. But he's such a young man.

The State of Arizona eventually had to pay $76,810 from the Contractor's Recovery Fund to Horizon clients who won lawsuits against the company. Horizon declared it was unable to pay off the civil judgments after the IRS seized Horizon's assets in 1994, claiming $83,147 in unpaid taxes.

There's more. Horizon's marketing director, Salvatore Di Giuseppi, pleaded guilty last July to one felony theft count related to four home-construction projects he put together after Horizon's license was revoked. In a plea bargain, Di Giuseppi admitted to absconding with $274,019 customers paid him to cover labor and material costs. In exchange, the state dropped two other theft counts and a criminal-enterprise charge. Di Giuseppi was fined $80,000, ordered to pay back the 274 grand, and sentenced to six months in jail, which he served this summer in a work-furlough program.

Before Horizon, Crane held the contractor's license for a company called Multi Cor Development. That license was revoked in 1992, and the state paid out $15,000 from the recovery fund to cover Multi Cor's defaults. It wasn't until the state began investigating the pile of complaints against Horizon Estate Homes that someone realized Crane had folded Multi Cor and reopened as Horizon Estate Homes.

"Notice is taken of Agency records which reveal the license issued to Greg Crane under the name Multi Cor has a less than exemplary record," a state hearing officer wrote in the 1993 report that revoked Horizon's license. "It would be highly inappropriate to allow Greg Crane to ignore Agency decisions and . . . insulate himself via 'license-hopping.'"

One month after Horizon lost its license, Crane and Di Giuseppi applied for yet another license, this time using the name Genesis Design Build Corp. It didn't work. Alan Felber, chief of licensing for the registrar of contractors, sent back a scathing letter dated October 20, 1993, which detailed 14 specific reasons their application was denied. Felber's letter is brutal. It basically guts the two men's history as contractors and holds up the entrails for public inspection. Among the 14 unsatisfied criteria: "Salvatore Di Giuseppi and Gregory Bruce Crane have not established good character and reputation. . . . They have failed to complete projects they have contracts for. . . . They have disregarded plans, specs and building codes. . . . They have failed to take appropriate corrective action when ordered to do so. . . . They have been misleading the public with false, deceptive and misleading advertising. . . . They have committed wrongful and fraudulent acts which have resulted in others being substantially injured."

When Horizon was still above water, its offices were in a small business park on North Scottsdale Road near the intersection of Scottsdale and Shea. Apparently, Crane likes the neighborhood. The home address he's used on legal documents for the past five years belongs to a store in a strip mall on Becker Street, one block north of Shea, that rents mailboxes by the month.

The headquarters for State Recording Service is also in the 'hood. Crane's latest digs are in the Scottsdale Condo Business Park, on 94th Street and Via Linda. The space looks like it was once set up for telemarketing. A large room in the back is filled with uniform cubicles, which are empty, except for three or four young women and a guy who looks like a younger version of Crane, answering phones and typing forms. The office decor is mostly fake plants and inspirational posters that look like they were ordered from the "Executive Accouterments" section of an in-flight magazine. Two stickers on the front window of the office proclaim membership in the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce for this year and last.

The last time I met Crane at his office was a Tuesday morning in early October. The proverb in the lobby was blue. It said: "The difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary is that little extra." Triumphantly tacked above it was a facsimile sheet. The words "This Is Not a Bill" leapt off the page from six feet away. The night before, Crane set a fax machine in his office to auto dial about 400 businesses across the country and transmit a solicitation for his newest venture--YellowPage.Net, a Web site with a nationwide Yellow Pages phone directory. The site was activated October 1, with several thousand business listings organized by state and category, in alphabetical order. "Those are courtesy listings, just to get us going," Crane explained. "We're going to offer clients a paid, premium listing, which will place their listing at the top of its category."

Along with the banner "This Is Not a Bill," the solicitations Crane faxed to the first batch of potential "premium listing" clients prominently featured the YellowPage.Net banner, and the "let the fingers do the walking" logo icon. Although most people don't know it, the name "Yellow Pages" and the walking-fingers logo were never trademarked in the United States. "They're free for anyone to use," Crane says. "It's a valuable business tool, because it carries instant recognition."

Instructions on the YellowPage.Net fax direct business owners to simply confirm the name, address and phone number for their listing and sign at the bottom to receive their premium placement. Crane's angle lies in the fine print, which contains a stipulation that by signing, the owners agree to have $12.50 a month tacked on to their phone bill. The form doesn't lie. It's not a bill. It's a contract.

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