Worst Philadelphia Contractors of 2011
Carr's Construction | Harrisburg, Penn.
From a porous roof to unfinished home additions, Dauphin County authorities say their investigation of Shelton Carr led to the filing in April of 16 felony charges against the 51-year-old contractor, including deceptive business practices, theft by deception and home improvement fraud.
Chief Dauphin County Detective John Goshert says damages from unfinished work, related to eight complaints investigators received about the owner of Carr's Construction, total about $188,000.
"He literally destroyed my home," Harrisburg resident Mary Williams says. She paid Carr $20,000 for a new roof so porous it left her with mold and mildew and water damage throughout her house, she says.
"I'm living in one room, upstairs. All of my furniture is in a pod in the driveway. My kitchen is totally torn up," she says, adding that estimates place damages between $71,000 and $79,000.
In Williams' case and seven others, Dauphin County Deputy District Attorney Jason McMurry says Carr took money upfront and either did incomplete work or never started the jobs.
"In these cases, people just kept hoping and holding on and nothing ever materialized and Carr just kind of disappeared," McMurry says. Carr pleaded not guilty on all counts and a hearing was scheduled for this month, as of press time.
Carr's attorney, Christopher Dreisbach, contends the homeowner complaints should be treated as civil matters. "There was no criminal intent," he says, adding that they represent only a fraction of work Carr performed for hundreds of satisfied customers during a five-year period.
However, Goshert says the allegations against Carr go beyond "off the chart" shoddy work. "I think this did cross the line. That's why we charged him," the detective says, describing Carr's business practices as intentionally deceptive and criminal. A notice on his profile alerts members.
Carr's registration with the state as a home improvement contractor expired July 1, and Dreisbach says he's not doing any contracting work until charges are resolved. In addition to the criminal charges, Carr's been ordered to pay more than $25,000 in six civil judgments rendered in Dauphin County since 2001.
Precision Builders | Marlton, N.J.
Allentown resident Richard Fried says he had doubts when representatives from Precision Builders told him his insurance would pay to replace his hail-damaged roof and siding. "I would think that if you had hail damage, you'd be able to see it," Fried says.
But after his insurance provider confirmed the damage, he hired Precision to do the work in April. "It was a rip-off," he says, explaining how workers did shoddy work and used subpar materials.
Fried and hundreds of other homeowners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey say they fell victim to a scam involving four men, who are accused in either criminal or civil courts of faking hail damage on homes in order to collect insurance money, according to court documents.
The four - Steven Sciubba, president of Precision Builders; Marcin Porzkowski; Dominik Sadowski and Marcin Gradziel - either owned or worked for multiple companies involved in the alleged scam.
In April, the Lehigh County district attorney's office filed multiple felony charges against Porzkowski and Sadowski, including insurance fraud, criminal mischief, theft by deception and corrupt organizations. According to court documents, the pair instructed other Precision Builders employees on how to create "hail damage" to siding.
Lehigh Detective Pete McAfee reported in a probable cause affidavit that a Precision employee was observed making impressions in siding with the duct-taped handle of a screwdriver.
Two months later, a New Jersey grand jury indicted Sadowski and Gradziel on five felony charges of conspiracy, insurance fraud and theft by deception. "We're happy to report that we understand the company is no longer soliciting work [in New Jersey]," says Ronald Chillemi, a prosecutor with the New Jersey attorney general's office.
Pennsylvania officials also believe the four men no longer work in the area. A notice on the company's profile alerts members.
In addition to the criminal charges, The Travelers Indemnity Co. filed a civil suit in a Philadelphia federal court against Sadowski, Porzkowski, Gradziel and Sciubba to recover damages. The insurance company says it paid fraudulent insurance claims in excess of $1 million, according to court documents.
Attempts to reach the four men by phone were unsuccessful, and messages left with attorneys went unreturned.
Serenity Travel Club | Newark, Del.
When Tom Doyle paid $6,000 for a lifetime membership to Serenity Travel Club, he envisioned deep discounts on plush condominiums the world over. Instead, he says he got headaches over sign-up perks and poor communication.
"Nobody ever gets back with me," says the Coatesville member, whose F report in January 2011 - the company's only report - landed Serenity in the Penalty Box. A notice on the firm's Angie's List profile alerts members.
In October, Doyle filed a complaint with the Delaware attorney general, who'd already sued Serenity and its affiliate, Destination Vacations International, the year before for similar complaints. AG spokesman Jason Miller says his office filed a second lawsuit in January because Serenity failed to pay refunds and change its business practices.
Miller says Serenity appears to no longer be doing business in Delaware, but principals may be operating in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Attempts to reach owner Eric Shuman were unsuccessful.
Solaris Energy | Philadelphia
John and Paula Wehmiller of Swarthmore say it's taken two years and another $20,000 to fix a defective, unsafe $26,000 solar panel system installed by Solaris Energy. "It's a major source of frustration," John says.
The company's F rating is based on one report submitted by the Wehmillers, which landed it in the Penalty Box. A notice on Solaris' AL profile alerts members.
In September, a judge entered a $213,458 default judgment against Solaris and owner Michael McKinley after the Pennsylvania attorney general filed suit on behalf of the Wehmillers and 10 other homeowners.
McKinley also faces five felony charges, including theft by deception and receiving stolen property, filed in March in Montgomery County.
McKinley, whose home improvement contractor license expired in August, says he's out of business due to the poor economy. "The hundreds of thousands of dollars I'm out myself are testament to how things can go wrong," he says, adding that he never intended to harm his customers.
- by Michael Schroeder