The Message

Target: Tom

Tony Marquette says he grew up listening to Tom Martino on Denver radio. So when it came time to choose a contractor to install new flooring and tile in his Centennial house last year, he selected one from Martino's website, www. roubleshooter.com, which charges businesses sizable sums to be on its coveted referral list -- something Marquette says he didn't know. But when the contractor's work failed to satisfy him and Troubleshooter Network staffers didn't set things right by his standards, Marquette's admiration for the radio host began to deteriorate. He's now threatening to sue the contractor, as well as Martino, who "needs to be knocked off his soapbox and told, 'You talk a lot of crap.'"

The notoriously pugnacious Martino, who also leads an investigative team on Channel 31, doesn't react to this statement by meekly turning the other cheek. He's spoken with Marquette just once, during a January 5 exchange heard on KHOW locally and more than 220 stations nationwide, via a syndication deal with Westwood One. Yet he doesn't hesitate to brand him a "nut," a "liar" and a "shakedown artist" with a big payday on his mind. "He thinks he's found a gold mine in Tom Martino and that I'm afraid of what publicity he can bring to bear," he declares. "And I say, 'Bring it on!' I have nothing to hide."

Maybe not, but digging into the Marquette affair unearths plenty of information that doesn't look very pretty in the bright sunshine. Accusations fly back and forth between Martino, Marquette and Steve Nickels, owner and operator of American Hardwood & Tile, who was hired to make the improvements in question. The situation has been marked by personality conflicts, threats of violence, even subterfuge -- and instead of improving things, Martino's Troubleshooter Network has further complicated them.

The saga began in December 2003, when a new refrigerator the Marquettes purchased at Sears sprang a leak that damaged their kitchen flooring. After Sears offered a settlement to repair the damage, Tony, who runs his own mortgage company as well as a sports-memorabilia business, and his wife, Debbie, a medical-firm employee, decided that on top of fixing the kitchen, they'd spruce up other portions of the aging home they share with their nine-year-old son. In the end, they earmarked an entryway and three bathrooms for retiling and general upgrading. The couple initially planned to have Debbie's brother, a longtime contractor, tackle these chores, but before he could get under way, he was jailed on drug-related charges. That's when they visited Troubleshooter.com and discovered American Hardwood & Tile.

Renovation took place on and off from January until June 2004. Nickels chalks up the length of this span to a deal he made with Marquette to discount the total if he could be paid in cash and work on a sporadic basis between other jobs. During the delay, several pieces of furniture moved onto the Marquettes' porch were ruined by the winter weather; in Nickels's version, the couple told him the stuff was junk they'd been planning to discard, but they say otherwise. The Marquettes also gripe that folks from the American Hardwood team scheduled visits on four or five occasions and then didn't show up. Nickels sees this accusation as exaggerated, but he confirms that it led to a shouting match in which Marquette said he'd better watch his step or he might wind up "at the bottom of a river." Marquette claims he made this remark after Nickels yelled at his son.

The bill for the work (not including materials, which the Marquettes bought) came to about $8,000. Predictably, the two parties vary about whether total payment was made; Nickels feels he's still owed about a grand, while Marquette says he fulfilled his obligation by giving the contractor an expensive sander previously owned by Debbie's imprisoned brother. Even so, the Marquettes were at least moderately happy with the outcome -- until, that is, they began noticing what they consider to be flaws in Nickels's workmanship. They've found dozens of glitches by now, and they portray many of them as potentially dangerous. To the average observer, a lot of their claims, like ones about tiny cracks between tiles that can barely be spotted from an inch or two away, seem significantly overstated; others, such as those involving a shower base that gaps when pressure is applied to its corner and grout that rubs off appear to be more substantial.

For Marquette, though, the biggest issue is one that's out of sight: the installation of a subfloor beneath the tile, as mentioned in his contract with American Hardwood. Nickels used a product called Hardibacker, but the installation guide put out by Hardibacker's manufacturer says the backerboard should be used with a subfloor, not in lieu of it. As a result, Marquette believes he's been ripped off, and he wants Nickels to tear up the entire floor and start from scratch.

Nickels contends that replacing typical subfloor is completely unnecessary. Martino agrees, saying that contractors with whom he's spoken often use the words "Hardibacker" and "subfloor" interchangeably, turning the entire matter into an argument over semantics.

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