Wauwatosa-based Knutson Bros. Design-Build LLC is accusing its former sales consultant of using the company’s brand to establish his own companies and taking trade show leads for himself before failing to perform the work customers expected, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin.
Troy Fullerton was an independent sales consultant for Knutson Bros. from 2015 through the fall of 2016. According to the complaint, he registered his own company, KB Roofing & Remodeling LLC, in September 2016. Fullerton then allegedly distributed brochures at trade shows using Knutson Bros. photos, logos and text, but changed the name and contact information to his business.
He also created websites that used Knutson Bros. text and photos. Those websites, KBRoofs.com, KnutsonBrothers.com and kb-designbuild.com, created the potential for consumers to think they were associated with Knutson Bros., which uses the website knutsonbros.com, according to the complaint.
The complaint also says Fullerton cut off Knutson Bros.' access to its Facebook page by changing the password and removing other administrators.
Reached by phone, Fullerton said he didn’t know anything about the lawsuit and had not been served with the complaint. He declined to comment on Knutson Bros.' allegations after he was provided with a brief description of them.
Federal court records indicate Fullerton was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution on fraud charges. He pleaded guilty to ordering more than 5,000 phones as a Verizon employee as if they were replacements for existing lines and then selling them on eBay or to another company.
Fullerton acknowledged he was convicted in the case, but said he didn’t want to comment on anything several years in the past.
Robert Schulz, business manager at Knutson Bros., said he checked state court records but didn’t know about Fullerton’s federal conviction when he hired him in a sales role.
“At first I trusted him,” Schulz said. “He lacked a lot of knowledge on construction, but he was a good salesperson and that was what I needed at the time.”
Knutson Bros. initially helped Fullerton with a few jobs related to his previous business, Meyer Construction, which ran into financial difficulty. Schulz said he felt Fullerton had challenges managing money but perceived him as an outgoing, friendly guy.
Schulz caught wind of Fullerton’s alleged activities when a former Meyer client called him and told him about the federal conviction. He said Knutson Bros. has been getting calls from a number of people who thought they were contracting the company, but actually signed agreements with KB Roofing and Remodeling.
“I thought it would just die out, but in the last week I’ve had calls from six people,” Schulz said.
He claimed Fullerton used the Knutson Bros. contract word-for-word and merely changed the business name.
In one case, Schulz said he heard from a widow in St. Francis who said Fullerton “charmed her into a contract” for a deck. He started the job, didn’t pull any permits, and the building inspector eventually found out and discovered 14 major issues with the project, Schulz said.
“It’s sad because some of these people save up their money,” Schulz added. “I get the phone calls when things go bad. I’ve got guys screaming at me wanting to wring my neck.”
St. Francis building inspector Craig Vretenar said in an email Fullerton applied for a permit in June but did not have any plans for structural work. Vretenar stopped by the house in July and the deck project was complete but it had code violations and a portion needed to be reconstructed. In August he met with Fullerton to walk the site to see the various violations but he had not had contact with him since.
The lawsuit alleges Fullerton engaged in cybersquatting, trademark infringement, unfair competition and false representation, breach of loyalty and misappropriation of trade secrets. It seeks an order blocking him from using from using Knutson Bros. trademarks, along with the disgorgement of any gains, payment of three times those gains to Knutson Bros. and other damages.