A criminal conviction and threats of violence don't add up to a license revocation.
Real-estate agent Bill Bernier hit a client with a lock box during an argument and violated a restraining order issued against him after he threatened St. Paul inspections employees. But other than a seven-month suspension, Bernier kept his state real estate license and stayed in the business for another five years.
Bernier's license was revoked in April after a pattern of troubles that culminated in his failure to provide documents to home buyers and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
Criminal convictions do not automatically cost real-estate professionals their licenses. State law dictates that licensed real estate agents and brokers must report to the Commerce Department if they are convicted of any felony or a gross misdemeanor that involves fraud, misrepresentation, conversion of funds or a similar violation. They are required to disclose any criminal convictions, other than traffic violations, when they apply for a license.
Nicole Garrison-Sprenger, spokeswoman for the Commerce Department, said she could not discuss why Bernier's license wasn't revoked earlier.
"It is also important to note that there is nothing in the law that dictates which scenarios result in the department denying a license and which do not," she said in a statement.
Garrison-Sprenger said licensees also have to provide a written explanation of why they got in trouble, and the department "will determine the appropriateness of allowing the licensee to maintain the license."
Bernier, whose real estate business in South St. Paul had focused on foreclosed properties, said he isn't happy that he lost his license, but he's moving on. He said his main business now is as a landlord.
He denied being the aggressor in any of his confrontations, but admitted that he didn't get all his paperwork right. "None of us are angels," he said.
Bernier didn't try to fight the revocation because once the commerce department decides something, "there's no beating them," he said.
History of problems
In December 2003, three St. Paul employees in the city's licensing and inspections office reported that they felt threatened by Bernier. Bernier told one employee, "you better tell your people to watch out because someone might kill one of them," according to the city's petition for a restraining order. He asked another employee if she remembered Don Juenemann, a housing code inspector who was murdered while on the job in 1997, and said she shouldn't be surprised if the same thing happened to other inspectors.
Bernier told a police investigator that someone would kill another inspector, but "it won't be him because he has too much to lose," the petition said. In an interview, Bernier admitted that he made the comments, but said he was making an "observation," not a threat.
The assault happened at the end of 2004, when one of Bernier's clients fired him. Bernier went to the man's house to retrieve a lock box and the two began arguing. The criminal complaint states that Bernier repeatedly hit the client with the lock box, leaving visible injuries. Bernier was convicted of gross misdemeanor fifth-degree assault.
Last week, Bernier said the client attacked him first and the lock box "probably did hit him" because Bernier was holding it in his hand at the time.
In 2003 and 2004, the commerce department received three additional complaints about Bernier, including one from the Minnesota Association of Realtors. In 2005, an administrative law judge recommended the department take disciplinary action.
Bernier "has acted in an increasingly aggressive manner in dealing with the frustrations inherent in the job of a real estate broker," Judge Kathleen Sheehy wrote in 2005. "The Department has established that [Bernier's] threatening statements to [St. Paul] personnel and recent use of physical aggression toward a client demonstrate that, at least at the present time, he is not qualified to act as a real estate broker."
His license was suspended from November 2005 until May 2006.
In June 2008 and March 2009, Bernier pleaded guilty to separate misdemeanors for failing to provide truth-in-sale-of-housing reports to home buyers. In June 2009, Bernier began working with Oxford Dixon to help him sell his St. Paul house to a neighbor before it went into foreclosure.
Bernier had Dixon sign blank purchase and listing agreements and when Dixon finally saw the finished paperwork, the price was $10,000 less than what he and his neighbor had agreed on, according to the state's charges. Dixon fired Bernier, and Bernier sued him in conciliation court and lost.
Dixon said he wishes he had known about Bernier's history before he hired him.
"I don't think people like that should be in the business," Dixon said.
Staff writer Jane Friedmann contributed to this report. Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628