Worst Los Angeles Contractors of 2011
Mayra Ayala | Compton, Calif.
In November, Mayra Ayala, who operated Bastidas de Ayala in Compton, received a sentence of 36 months probation and 120 hours community labor after being convicted of grand theft, operating illegally without a license and asking for a deposit of more than $1,000. A San Pedro couple says they had to file for bankruptcy after Ayala demolished their home.
"It's a shame the defendant didn't get jail time," says Deputy City Attorney Keith De La Rosa, who blames jail overcrowding. Along with probation and labor, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba ordered Ayala to pay $1,000 on Jan. 17 and $400 monthly in restitution. A total amount hadn't been decided as of press time, but De La Rosa was seeking $258,848.
That's what Manuel Rivas and Etelvina Moreno Rivas say they paid Ayala to build a home addition and remodel a kitchen and bathrooms. Ayala told the Rivases they needed to move out temporarily, says Venus Stromberg, spokeswoman for the Contractors State License Board.
They say they returned a few weeks later to find their home demolished. "I felt completely disgusted and offended by what she put me and my wife through," Manuel says, through a Spanish interpreter.
Stromberg says Ayala allegedly told the couple that the city requested the house be demolished but failed to provide any documentation to prove that. Already paid in full, Ayala then asked for $138,000 more to complete the job and walked off when she didn't get it. "What's sad in this case is the incredible gravity of the damage done," Stromberg says.
She says Ayala even took the Rivases to get another loan but with no house, the Rivases couldn't get one, forcing them to file for bankruptcy. "She stole [our] money," Manuel says. Stromberg says the Rivases thought Ayala was licensed because she allegedly showed them a business card displaying another contractor's license. A notice alerts members.
Court records indicate Ayala has a 2008 felony conviction for providing false information to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Ayala's attorney, public defender Danielle O'Sullivan, declined comment.
Duane Kressin | Santa Ana, Calif.
After serving a three-year prison term on multiple felony charges of elder abuse and grand theft, unlicensed HVAC contractor Duane Kressin returned to prison last year after pleading guilty to new felony charges related to the same type of criminal behavior, according to the Contractors State License Board.
In April, a judge sentenced Kressin to four years and four months in prison after he pleaded guilty in Orange County to theft from an elderly adult, diversion of construction funds, two counts of unlawful use of another contractor's license number and contracting without a license.
CSLB spokeswoman Venus Stromberg says the state agency obtained a warrant for Kressin's arrest on the new charges after receiving numerous complaints, including one from Santa Ana resident Gary Vandal, who says Kressin took his money to install a new heater, air conditioner and ductwork, but didn't complete the work.
At first blush, Vandal says, Kressin seemed like a teddy bear. "Very polite, not shy, he looks you right in the face," says the 70-year-old, who met Kressin as he solicited customers in his neighborhood for dry cleaning services before talk turned to heating and A/C work that Vandal needed to have done.
Vandal says Kressin and two workers did some preliminary work, then Kressin asked for more money for equipment upgrades. "It cost me $3,000 and we don't have a [new] heater [or air conditioner]," he says, adding that Kressin's crew took his old air conditioner, and left the old heater sitting in his driveway. A notice on Kressin's AL profile alerts members to his felony convictions.
Vandal admits he took pity on Kressin after learning that he was working two jobs to make ends meet. "When you get a little older, you get soft," Vandal says. "He's a good con man ... and I was conned."
Orange County Deputy District Attorney James Young says Kressin has a history of targeting elderly homeowners. His previous stint in prison came after he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of felony elder abuse and three counts of felony grand theft involving 32 victims. "Same types of charges, same types of victims, same types of schemes," Young says.
Kressin's public defender, Mark Kim, didn't return messages.
Trevor Harwell | Fullerton, Calif.
In June, the Orange County district attorney filed 12 felony counts of computer access and fraud against Trevor Harwell, a computer repair technician formerly employed by La Habra-based Rezitech. He's accused of installing spyware on six women's computers to videotape and photograph them as they undressed.
Orange County investigators believe Harwell met the women in church or school, and they found no evidence that the women were Rezitech clients.
"He would have system messages come up to tell them that their camera was blurry and that they needed to take it to a hot steamy area to clean it," says Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich, adding that the victims declined to speak to media.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office confirms it's also investigating Harwell, but declined to provide further information. Messages left at Rezitech were not returned. A notice alerts members to the felony charges.
No trial date had been set as of press time. Neither Harwell nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
Abe's Garage Doors & Gates | Studio City
When his garage door opener malfunctioned, Angie's List member David Francis of Glassell Park called Abe's Garage Doors & Gates hoping for a quick fix. Instead, he says a technician arrived late and failed to correct the problem. "Basically, they left my garage door opener in worse condition and charged me $366 for the privilege," says Francis, who joined Angie's List as a result of his experience with Abe's.
Abe's, which holds the required state contractor's license, has an F rating on Angie's List with 10 reports, all D's and F's dating back to 2008. The Los Angeles BBB also gives it an F rating with 30 complaints. Calls to Abe's, which is still in operation, were not returned.
Newbury Park member Harvey Youngman says Abe's charged him more than twice what it quoted for a repair. "I would call them a definite bait-and-switch company," says Youngman, who admits he failed to check the List before hiring them. "Screwing people is their specialty."
- by Michael Schroeder