Piano Delivery

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Harris County DA Investigation

Last fall an investigator from the Houston DA's office turned up on PianoWorld asking for more information from anyone who'd done business with Covington. I believe that a couple of folks from the forums there responded to his request. I spoke with him on the phone briefly and sent him copies of the documentation that I posted here and my phone log, etc.

Didn't hear any news for a while, but today I got a letter from the DA's office stating that they had identified more than twenty people who'd had bad dealings with Mr. Covington, and that they were eventually able to recover a total of almost $750,000 (!) in cash and pianos during the course of the investigation. Covington has also apparently told the office that he's going to close down The Piano Store.

So kudos to you, Mr. Phillips! Very glad to hear that all these folks got their money or pianos back; I could have wished for some additional penalty on top of restitution, but this is still a great outcome.

Text of the letter follows.

Kenneth Magidson
District Attorney
Harris County, Texas

May 5 2008

RE: Consumer Fraud Investigation #07-0686; Scott Convington, d/b/a The Piano Store, d/b/a The Piano Movers

Dear [xxxxxxxxx],

As you may already know, in late September 2007, the Consumer Fraud Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office received a complaint from a consumer in reference to the business practices of Scott Covington, d/b/a The Piano Store. The complaint was assigned to Investigator Jim Phillips for investigation. Over the course of the next six months, Mr. Phillips worked diligently to investigate the initial complaint and identify additional consumers who lost money or pianos to Scott Covington.

During the early part of the investigation, Investigator Jim Phillips developed information that led to the execution of a search warrant on September 28, 2007 at 3701 Kirby Drive, Houston, Texas, a warehouse rented by Scott Covington, d/b/a The Piano Store. Items seized during the search warrant included: ledgers, journals, contracts, receipts, and computers. With the evidence gathered during that search warrant, Phillips was able to identify previously unknown consumers who had negative experiences with Mr. Covington.

After execution of the search warrant, the District Attorney's Office was contacted by Troy McKinney, a criminal defense attorney hired to represent Scott Covington. We later learned that David Disiere, a civil attorney, has also been hired to represent Covington in civil matters. Disiere was employed to contact consumers who had complaints about the business practices of Covington and was authorized to offer monetary compensation to make them whole.

Throughout Mr. Phillips investigation, as he identified complainants, many were reimbursed through Covington's civil attorney Disiere. A great number of these complainants, perhaps all, would not have received restitution had it not been for the extensive efforts of Jim Phillips. The investigation revealed over 20 complainants with various grievances against Scott Covington, d/b/a The Piano Store, d/b/a The Piano Movers. Each of these complainants was made whole by Covington. The total monetary restitution received by these complainants was nearly $600,000. That figure does not include over $40,000 in attorney's fees, which were also paid to a few of the complainants with the highest actual losses.

The grand total of monetary restitution, attorney's fees, and pianos received by consumers as a result of Mr. Phillips' investigation of Covington is nearly $750,000. As for your particular situation, I hope you are pleased with the restitution you have received as a result of this investigation.

While we had hoped to file criminal charges as a result of the evidence developed against Mr. Covington, at this point we have over 20 consumers, all who have been made whole. Admittedly, the fact that they have received restitution does not negate Mr. Covington's actions in dealing with customers of The Piano Store and The Piano Movers. Please understand: any jury empanelled to decide Mr. Covington's guilt on this matter would be made aware that all of the complainants have already received full restitution. Therefore, at present I do not believe that the State is in the best position to file criminal charges against Mr. Covington.

I hope that this letter has explained to your satisfaction the disposition of this investigation, which is now closed. All of the complainants identified during the investigation have been reimbursed in various ways. Mr. Covington is allegedly shutting down The Piano Store. Thank you for your cooperation during the investigation of Covington. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at (713) 755-XXXX.


Valerie Turner
Assistant District Attorney
Consumer Fraud Division

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fixed the Recordings

My podcast host changed their URL format... updated the links on the right to fix.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Summary and Conclusion

This blog describes my experience in attempting to purchase a piano from "The Piano Store" in Houston. Documentation of the sale, ill-fated delivery, and eventual refund is on the right; the beginning of the story is in these two posts. And if you only check out one other thing, please listen to Scott Covington, the store's proprietor and the son of its owner, telling me that the piano had been sitting for a week in a hotel room in Little Rock, Arkansas -- but that he didn't know the name of the hotel and could not contact the drivers he had sent to retrieve it.

Last word from Covington was that he was just about to fax me a signed copy of his verbal commitment to replace the missing piano with a new one, and that he would have an invoice or purchase order for the replacement as soon as he heard back from Bösendorfer's Vienna headquarters.

The last word from Bösendorfer (this through a US rep) was that they are involved in some kind of dispute with Covington themselves and would be unlikely to accept any new business from him at this point.

And since I tipped my hand and published these phone recordings, I assume that the charade is officially over -- the man would have to be insane to take a phone call from me now -- and so this is my last post on the subject. I will, however, publish any rebuttal or further explanation that Mr. Covington provides.

Please do scroll down and draw your own conclusions. I have tried to be fair in my characterization of events, although I have to admit that I wasn't quite as charitable here toward Mr. Covington as I was on the since-deleted PianoWorld thread.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

PW Thread Disappears

Apparently Covington threatened the proprietor of PianoWorld with a lawsuit, and so (understandably) he has removed the thread. Will attempt to post a link here from there...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Couple of Updates

1) Covington never did fax the agreement (although he told me 2 minutes ago that he will fax it as soon as some customers clear out of his store.) And as I mentioned on Saturday, he is still using Boesendorfer's Vienna HQ as his newest excuse for not having any paperwork to show me, two weeks after he made the nice offer and sent me the mail about not being a character, but rather, a man of character.

2) So this week I've been trying to track the mysterious invoice down at its source, and so I've been talking to Marion Bowinkelmann in Vienna. (Which means a lot of early morning phone calls.)

Ms. Bowinkelmann, who has a fantastic name and accent, listened to my story and let me fax her some documentation: the invoice, Covington's letter about refunding my money, and my last letter spelling out our phone agreement to replace the missing piano with a new one for the original price.

This morning I called her back, and she was suddenly very guarded. She can't tell me anything now, she said. They are having their US representative contact Mr. Covington -- whom she keeps calling "Steve Cunningham"; I do hope that she has the right guy in mind -- and I will hear back from them early next week.

My plan, and what I asked her to do, was to have the Bosies draw up a purchase contract and fax it to me, whereupon I could fax it to Covington and he would be out of excuses. (Other than the series of excuses related to processing the imaginary insurance claim, which I am sure will come next.) But once I fax him the contract it ought to get easier to press him... as things are now, he just acts really agreeable and doesn't do what he says he is going to do.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Got through, finally

SC says that he'll sign and return the agreement tonight, and that he's been working with Bosendorfer in Vienna, and not, as he originally told me, the distributor in the USA. (Maybe I shouldn't have dropped Basilios's name the way I did -- he's a clever guy. Or maybe I am just paranoid...)

He also said that the Bosendorferers were checking to see if they've got a Strauss-case 225 in the USA on a "Road Show". If they DO have one here, I should get the piano pretty quickly, he says.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Sent e-mail

To: Scott Covington <scottcovington@thepianostore.com>
Subject: Agreement / Invoice

Hi Scott,

Couldn't reach you at the store today; I'll try again tomorrow, but please do fax me the written agreement. If you haven't received any paperwork from Bosendorfer America, at least let me know where things stand. (That is, let me know whether you've placed the order with Basilios, whether you've confirmed that he has a 225 Johann Strauss in the US, etc.)

Thank you,

Thursday, October 13, 2005

(On the verge of an) Update

Just called the store and spoke very briefly to SC.

He says that the agreement is ready but he's waiting for Bösendorfer America to send him an invoice.

Which is an odd thing for them to be delaying, I think, but as usual I didn't think nearly as quickly on my feet and said that he could fax me the paperwork tomorrow...


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

No news

Going to call Mr. Covington this afternoon.

(Also, it's my thirtieth birthday.)

Update: He wasn't in the store... Nick said he'd be there tomorrow.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Informal Reply

Heard back from Scott today:


Sorry to just be answering your email/ fax until today. I was out of town yesterday and just got home today.

It will be Tuesday before I can get the new amended agreement to you. My attorney is in depositions all day tomorrow and I have been advised not to send anything before he approves it.

I appreciate your willingness to continue to work with us in this deal as well as your willingness to refrain from stirring up the people on the Piano Forum until I have had the opportunity to resolve it.

A check of the Piano Forum website will reveal that before now, our reputation has been good and consistent. I have not answered any of the accusations that have flown around there until we have a piano in your home and until we have the information we need to sue a few posters who we have identified as piano dealers and are masquerading as "concerned consumers". I have been a member of that forum for years and have never seen such trashing in it's history. I am being well-advised by people involved in the site and before all is said and done, will come out okay.

This is not to suggest I have not totally botched your delivery and failed miserably in terms of customer service and communication with you, but a "fast-Eddie" could not possibly have stayed in business and been as successful as we have been.

I hope before it is all over, you will know what The Piano Store is all about and that I am not a "character" but a man with character.

I will be in touch with you soon and feel free to call if you have any further questions.


Scott Covington
The Piano Store, Inc.

I have to admit that I'm not particularly impressed by the martyr act; but as long as he comes through with the new piano I won't complain about it, either.

Update: And by the way, I never said he was a "fast-Eddie".

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Written Response

Just to be clear, I sent SC a written summary of our verbal agreement...

Update: Got the signature card back.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Contacted Bösendorfer USA

Tried to verify Scott's story (he told me that he had spoken to the US distributor and that he thought there was a Strauss-case 225 in their warehouse already.)

To: xxxxxx@bosendorferamerica.com
Subject: 225 Johann Strauss (re. Scott Covington)

Mr. Strmec,

I recently purchased a used 225 with the Strauss case from Scott Covington, and Mr. Covington just told me that the piano was damaged in transit, so he'll be replacing it with a new one. (Which would be wonderful, from my point of view.) But I just wondered if you could confirm this for me, and let me know when you expect to ship the instrument.

Thanks and best regards,

Update: just got a reply from Basilios:

Thank you for your note and apologize for answering late as I am currently back in Austria for the last several days. As far as I know we have not received an order request from Mr. Covington in reg to a 225 Ebony Polish Johann Strauss.


Basilios A. Strmec

Episode XIV: A New Hope

So, I have been trying to pin down what exactly happened here: was the piano sold twice? Were we stalling while waiting for an emergency repair job? I am glad to have the $45k back, but I want to know what has been going on for the past month and a half.

So what I thought was: since SC offered to re-sell me the piano, the only way to learn anything more would be to follow that up and try to re-buy it. (Or at least go through the motions until I saw the thing again with my own eyes. Also, it's a gorgeous, gorgeous piano, so maybe I wanted to see it again for... sentimental reasons or something like that.)

And there was always the possibility of cashing in with a civil suit. Generally not a fan of opportunistic lawsuits, but the chances are pretty good that I really was wronged here, and if nothing else, I'd like to give the guy something to think about the next time he gets a clever idea...

But as noted, I haven't been able to get hold of him this week -- until today he finally returned my call and said that:

1) The piano was badly damaged weeks and weeks ago;
2) But the drivers were trying to conceal it from him; (!)
3) And so he only found out yesterday night;
4) And so he is going take the insurance money and buy me a new Strauss-case 225.

The new one lists at $122,000 in Larry Fine's book. Which, a) figure $90k in real life, and b) it's not like I would be able to flip it and pocket the difference, but c) DANG!

And obviously everything I hear from Harris County, Texas, these days I take with a grain of salt. But this would certainly compensate me generously for the pain-n-suffering. And while waiting to see if this is another fish story, I agreed to let the thread die a natural death on PW. Told him I'd start a new one in a couple of weeks, once I have the shiny new piano.

Which, I have mixed feelings about coming back to say "Scotty's okay!", because I really wish there would have been something on PW to tip me off about him back in July.

But on the other hand, DANG.

Still stalling

Heard from the technician this morning. He said that Scott told him on Monday that the piano was "not there yet", but that he would call him when it was ready. And that he hadn't heard anything since.

Steve, I called Scott the day I talked with you. He said the piano was not there yet. He said he would call me when it came in. As yet I haven't heard from him.


Thanks, Gary. It's possible that the piano no longer exists, but I will try to pin SC down before wasting any more of your time.

And then (why not?) he told me about a C7 he's got in his warehouse...

Thanks Steve, I'll wait to hear from you or Scot. If that piano doesn't work out for you, I have access to performance pianos from time to time that might be of interest to you. As of now I have access to a new C7 7' 6'' Yamaha that is one of the best pianos I have ever seen and under 30 K.


Anyway, I also heard from Keyboard Carriage, who said that they would make their first pick-up attempt next Tuesday, and obviously I am going to have to cancel.

Good Evening Steve,

Thank you for your business and your order # is smrd6150. I show your transfer rate as $700.00 dollars. Do you agree? If you have any questions I can be contacted @ 270-XXX-XXXX ext.142.

To which I replied:

Hi Rick,

$700 is fine; were you able to schedule the pick-up?

Good Evening Steve,
Thanks for the quick response. Your order will be processed tomorrow and Keyboard Carriage will make there first attempt to pickup the week of 10-10-05. If you have any questions I can be contacted @ 270-XXX-XXXX ext. 142.

This whole business is leaving the worst taste in my mouth, but it does seem like everybody else I've dealt with (excepting a few salesmen in Pittsburgh and Columbus) in the piano industry is a professional. And in SC's defence, the rigamarole I went through might have had more to do with the hurricanes (or the fact that he was trying to cheat me) than with his professionalism, per se.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

No show

Called the store twice (Scott's not there; nobody knows where the piano is) and Covington's cell phone three times, but didn't learn anything.

I have to admit, I think he sold the thing twice. I might enjoy suing him for specific performance (i.e. asking the court to compel him to sell me another Strauss case 225 for $45k.) But I also want a piano SOON, so I will probably settle for the refund and reimbursment for my expenses.


Will republish the (perfectly legal) recordings shortly. Legal or not, nobody is obligated to host them, I guess. :)


Since the inspection is scheduled for today, I finally broke down and called to make sure that the piano is actually in Scott's showroom. And of course Nick (his assistant) didn't know... Guess I will find out soon enough.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about starting over. There's a used SS B in Evansville (1991 and the guy is asking $42k) and I was thinking I should check out some Grotrians. A new Grotrian 225 would sell for not much more than I was paying for the used Bosie, and I didn't get a chance to play one when I was shopping earlier in the year. (And everybody seems to love 'em.) The nearest dealers, unfortunately, are in Akron and Chicago.

And there is still this 214CS in Little Rock. Heh...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Got a technician

Hired this gentleman to inspect (and appraise, since I'll need to insure the thing if I end up buying it) the piano tomorrow at Scott's showroom. I should call to make sure the piano is back, safe and sound, but somehow I can't bring myself to pick up the phone and jeopardize my current calm. Maybe later in the afternoon.

Also, maybe I will offer to trade Mr. Hardy a few hours of website cleanup for his services.

Also, I played my freshman theory class the insane voice message about the piano being in a hotel room in Arkansas. They cracked up. The sharper legal minds among them said that I also deserve to be compensated for the mental anguish or whatever I've been suffering for the past month...

(Which, I'll have to remember which kids raised this issue and triple-check their grades, because I don't want to end up compensating anybody for pain or suffering.)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bank says...

The first time I called them they said that the funds weren't available. But I called the dealer to (politely) ask if he was planning on moving funds around today or something, and he explained that the account was attached to a line of credit (and spent most of the time in overdraft). Called the bank back; bank confirmed that "Funds are available." So things are definitely looking up!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Dear Sir

I thought about cashing the check and just running in the other direction as fast as I could.

But then I thought, I ought to try to pin this guy down. If he never had any intention of selling me the piano, then he owes me every DIME that I spent trying to buy the thing. (Plus interest.) And if he is playing things straight, then I WANT THE PIANO!

So, I wrote the most hard-boiled response I could come up with. If (heaven forfend) he is a fraud, I wanted it to sound a little bit intimidating, but if he is on the up-and-up, I don't want to offend.

So, my pseudo-lawyerly response:

Update: got the signature card back:

Friday, September 30, 2005

Strange, Portentious Message

None, and I really mean NONE, of this is information that I can vouch for. But since it was related to me in such an odd manner I will try to describe it and let you make up your own minds. (I have not made up my own mind, to be honest, and I will try to explain the mitigating circumstances as I see them.)

About three hours after I introduced the dealer's name into the thread on PianoWorld I got a "Private Message" on the forum:

We know this guy we can give you some information that would be helpfull, but only by phone. Please call at XXX-XXX-XXXX as for XXXX XXXXXXX.

So I called the number, but didn't get an answer until the following morning. The next morning I called the store (it was another piano store in the same market, which should obviously affect your evaluation of this story) and the guy told me some blood-curdling stories.

Update: The check did clear, which seems to contradict what the other dealer told me; so I'm removing his unsupported and partially disproven allegations. Either Texas is a weird place, or the piano industry is a weird industry. (Or both.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

But come to think of it...

The people at PianoWorld who said I was a fool for letting the situation stew for almost a month... those guys were probably right. Having a generally positive and trusting outlook is worth a lot to me, it really is, but it's not worth forty-five grand.


I posted the sob story first on PianoWorld.

I got some good advice (about hiring independent movers) and some bad advice (about the FBI) and some people thought I was a moron for being so gullible.

Others thought that I was making stuff up, but I posted redacted scans of the invoice and wire:

And those look pretty convincing, even without the dealer's name.


The delays are supposed to have been because:

1) The dealer wanted to consolidate a couple of shipments to share costs. This was a one week delay, and it was also the one he warned me about ahead of time, so not a big deal...

(On the other hand, he has never mentioned the other two deliveries again, so I don't know what happened to them.)

2) He had his trucks/drivers making relief deliveries down south after Katrina hit. (It's not an independent delivery company, these are the dealer's trucks and employees.)

So obviously I would have to be a heel to complain about THAT, but it was at least inconsiderate not to let me know what the delivery guys were up to. I spent a boring Saturday waiting around and trying to get somebody on the phone who knew what was going on.

3) The truck got turned around about halfway to my place because of not having some piece of essential paperwork for interstate deliveries. You'd think he would have learned at some point what paperwork was required, but even if it's an honest mistake, he should have let me know what happened before I took the morning off and waited around for a truck that wasn't coming.

4) One of the drivers went AWOL or something like that so the truck never left. (The dealer's assistant said something euphemistic about staffing problems and not-to-worry, that the culprit had been fired.)

This time the delivery was supposed to be Friday night or Saturday morning and I didn't find out what had gone wrong until Monday. Whoever was watching the store over the weekend had no idea what the situation was, and for some reason I kept thinking that if I was stubborn enough calling and waiting, the truck would just materialize in my driveway.

5a) The truck got stopped at a weigh station in Tennessee and ended up having to spend the night outside of Nashville because they didn't have a log book. This was odd, because he actually mentioned the log book to me during excuse #3, and also because he told me earlier that morning that they were in Illinois -- and you don't get to Indiana by driving up to Illinois and then back down to Tennessee and then back up north again.

But this was only supposed to push the delivery back until the next morning, and Nashville is only 5 hours from Bloomington, so I figured it wasn't a huge deal. (Maybe the Illinois thing was just a bad guess at where they would be by that point.)

5b) But then the truck didn't show up the next morning either, and the store's answering machine said that they had closed to let employees get out of the way of hurricane Rita.

So I got the dealer on his cell phone, and he said not-to-worry, that the truck and the piano were going to stay in Nashville until the drivers' families could join them there, and then they would all drive up here together to drop off my piano.

And this is what finally made me start imagining some sort of con, because it doesn't make any sense at all. It is a ridiculous plan! If that's really what the drivers did, they would have had time to drive from Nashville to my house and back three or four times while waiting. (And our call got cut off before I could ask him how to get hold of those guys in Tennessee.)

What seemed more likely to me was that the truck had turned around and that the dealer didn't want to tell me the truth about it because he knew he had already screwed up several times in a row... Human nature, maybe.

So anyway I figure like there's a reasonable chance that I'm the one being a jerk here, what with the hurricanes and all. But it's pretty hard to believe that anybody could have such a string of good intentions and bad luck...


So I bought a piano in July from an out-of-state dealer with delivery scheduled for the week of August 22. I paid the full purchase price up front ($45,000 wire transfer on July 13th) but the dealer has postponed delivery five times and I have no idea where the piano is now or whether/when to expect it to arrive.

(I've had the rug rolled back and casters laid out and everything for three weeks; it looks kind of depressing in there by now.)

Anyway, on four of the scheduled delivery dates, this guy told me right up until the day before the truck was supposed to arrive that everything was going as planned, so I got ready and waited around the house, and waited some more, and kept waiting, and when I finally got through to the store it would turn out that the truck had never left, or had forgotten some piece of paperwork, etc.

FOUR TIMES this has happened! (The other time he did let me know that his plans had changed ahead of time.) So I'm pretty nervous by now; can't tell whether the guy is just clueless or whether I'm being had.