Jim Benoit now says that “No good deed goes unpunished.” Sure enough, when he decided early this year to grant a second chance to a lead carpenter who had been falsifying his time sheets, not only was the carpenter AWOL the next day, but so were several items that belonged to the company, including tools, a cell phone, paperwork, and a credit card.

“I knew I should have let him go that day,” says Benoit in hindsight. “But he broke down, shed tears, said ‘I'm depressed, my wife is leaving me,' every sad story in the book.”

Over the days and weeks ahead, Benoit, of Benoit & Czarnecki Design/Construction (Big50 2004), Newtown Square, Pa., spent hours cleaning up the mess the fugitive left behind. This included a false workman's compensation claim filed shortly after the incident and repeated efforts to use the cancelled company Visa card. Benoit never did get all his tools back, and last he heard, the carpenter “was working at the [Jersey] shore. I would love to know for whom,” he says, “so I could give that guy a heads-up.”

What went wrong? Benoit had a system of checks and balances: the lead carpenter's résumé “had checked out,” he had run jobs before, and his project was on track financially. But Benoit erred by letting him work exclusively with apprentices, who didn't know to be suspicious of his periodic absences. It was only when Benoit noted slippage in the project schedule that he assigned an experienced carpenter to the problem carpenter's crew. “He fooled him for a couple of days, but that was it.”

Now Benoit conducts random jobsite visits to make sure that everybody is on the job. His only other major change has been to start paying greater heed to “that little voice” that told him he should fire the carpenter the first time around, rather than giving him a shot at redemption. “When you've got someone with a pathological problem, you have to wonder if this is his M.O. Will he do it again?”