Worst Contractors of 2009
Allegations of theft, shoddy work, document deception & even kidnapping and murder charges are just some of the reasons these 10 contractors landed on Angie's List of the worst contractors for 2009.
Northwest Home Source | Portland, Ore.
Jimmy Ray Kelly, owner of Northwest Home Source, was arrested in August 2009 and charged with racketeering for allegedly committing theft by deception, wire and bank fraud — bilking homeowners and a bank out of nearly $400,000. Kelly has an F on Angie’s List and landed in the Penalty Box twice, prompting an alert on his company’s profile.
Member Jane O’Brien of Damascus, Ore., hired Kelly to build two home additions. After paying Kelly $50,000, O’Brien says no work ever happened.
“This is devastating,” says O’Brien, who successfully sued Kelly but still hasn’t received any money. “My husband and I will never be whole again.”
Kelly also reportedly convinced Washington-based First Security Bank he’d completed work so the bank would forward payments from homeowners’ loans. The Oregon DOJ received 31 complaints about Northwest Home Source, ranging from breach of contract to shoddy work, and Kelly owes more than $275,000 in fines to the Oregon Construction Contractors Board — his license was revoked in 2005.
Kelly and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment. His trial is slated to start this month.
Rock Tops | Macomb, Mich.
When Dana and Steve Pflueger decided to install new countertops in their kitchen and bathroom, they found a company that got rave reviews. But days after they signed a contract with the Nashville office of Michigan-based Rock Tops in December 2008 — and handed over $4,000 — the company shuttered its offices.
“I’d finally talked my husband into getting new countertops after five years and this is what happened,” Dana says.
The Pfleugers were among more than 150 homeowners, vendors and employees who were left empty-handed when owners Robert Thiede and Bob Gasiorowski abruptly closed down. In July 2009, Thiede filed for bankruptcy, listing more than $6.4 million in business debt.
Rock Tops and Gasiorowski, whose address is listed as Naples, Fla., are named as co-debtors to scores of individuals and businesses in Thiede’s bankruptcy.
Rock Tops has been slapped with nearly $1 million in civil judgments for vendors. Attorneys general and consumer protection offices in Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Georgia and Tennessee received nearly 200 complaints against the company.
Barrington Carr, of Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, says his agency has suspended Rock Tops’ license and is investigating. Numbers for the two men were disconnected and their attorneys did not return messages.
Claim Specialists International Inc., K2 Roofing and Construction Company | Denver, Colorado Springs
The Colorado Attorney General filed a complaint in September against Claim Specialists International — later known as K2 Roofing and Construction Company — for allegedly taking more than $1 million in insurance money and not repairing the roofs of some 500 Colorado homeowners between April 2007 and March 2009.
Company representatives went door to door following a hailstorm, offering homeowners a free inspection and then contracted to repair their roofs, according to court records. “This company used particularly aggressive sales techniques,” says Attorney General John Suthers.
“I got screwed,” says George Hoendervoogt, who says he handed over $4,000 to the company. “Everything looked legit, but they didn’t do s---,” he says.
Glenn Jessen, who was the company’s president from April 2007 to November 2008 and is now president of Colorado Roof Exchange, maintains everything operated smoothly under his watch. “
Jessen, who’s faced theft charges in the past that were dismissed, says he was forced out of the company in November 2008 by colleagues including Melissa King, CSI president after Jessen — both named in the ongoing AG suit. King’s attorney refused to comment.
Affiliates LLC General Contractor | Jarrell, Texas
After emerging as one of Angie’s List’s Worst Contractors in Austin for 2008, Peter Stucky graduates to the national stage this year. In July, the owner of Affiliates LLC General Contractors pleaded guilty to 18 felonies for securing execution of a document by deception. Stucky sold homes without paying his subcontractors — resulting in nearly 150 homeowner liens, totaling more than $350,000.
In September, he was sentenced to two years in prison, but instead received four years probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for each of the 18 felonies. He also paid nearly $175,000 to 15 subcontractors. “If he screws up during that probation time – he could serve up to two years in jail,” says Tommy Coleman, assistant district attorney for Williamson County.
Angel Roby of Taylor, Texas, says she was shocked to receive $23,000 in liens from subcontractors after paying Stucky $121,000 to build her home. In addition, Roby says Stucky never followed through on a home warranty she purchased and parts of her house weren’t built adequately.
“He just threw my house together,” she says.
Stucky’s attorney, Russ Hunt Jr., says his client never intended to put any homeowners in financial difficulties.
“He just wanted to build houses,” Hunt says. “But I don’t think building houses is anywhere in Pete’s future.” Hunt says Stucky is still living in Texas and earns a living raising livestock.
Dependable Locks Inc. | Clearwater, Fla.
Be on the lookout for locksmith scams
Dependable Locks Inc., which made our National Worst list this year, allegedly used a variety of aliases to appear as local companies in business directories across the country.
Using information provided by consumer complaints received by Angie’s List, state attorneys general and local BBB chapters, we compiled a list of their aliases to help you steer clear of the company’s deceptive practices.
Legitimate locksmith companies may also use similar names to improve their position in business directories, so use the following tips to help avoid a locksmith scam.
In November, U.S. Postal Inspection agents arrested Dependable Locks Inc. owners Moshe Aharoni and David Peer on federal fraud and conspiracy charges. Earlier in 2009, the Missouri and Massachusetts attorneys general filed civil suits against the company, alleging it deceives consumers by purchasing multiple phone book listings to appear as different businesses with local addresses. But all calls are routed to call centers, first in New York and later Florida, where the operator offers a low estimate, usually less than $100.
When dispatched, a locksmith claims other work is necessary, performs the work — often shoddily — and bills the consumer hundreds of dollars, demanding cash, according to the AG complaints.
An Angie’s List survey of attorneys general, the BBB and our own records nationwide found more than 500 complaints against Dependable Locks or its alias companies in at least a dozen cities. The federal charges allege that Dependable used a network of at least 100 locksmiths, many Israeli aliens not authorized to work as locksmiths, to perpetrate the scheme across the country.
Laura Gold of West Newton, Mass., hired the company to replace a dead bolt based on a $70 estimate. But when the locksmith was done, the bill was nearly $600. “It was a red flag, but I felt stuck,” Gold says. “I don’t know how they can live with themselves.”
The company has an overall D on Angie’s List based on nine reports in seven cities. At press time, Peer and Aharoni were free on bond and scheduled for an upcoming court hearing. Calls to Dependable Locks and the men’s attorneys were not returned.
Valley Forge Insurance Company | Norristown, Pa.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Unit and Insurance Fraud Section filed 43 criminal charges in August against Brian Johnson, owner of Valley Forge Insurance Company, for allegedly stealing more than $45,000 from elderly consumers. The charges include felony insurance fraud and theft by deception.
According to the AG, Johnson collected premiums from 14 individuals, but deposited the money into his own bank account. “Mr. Johnson’s clients believed they were purchasing long-term care insurance, but instead were left with nothing,” says Attorney General Tom Corbett.
Pauline Graybill, 89, of York, Pa., says she felt she had a rapport with Johnson because he visited her often, before she became his client.
“I think he saw me as a mother figure,” she says.
Until October 2007, that is, when she says Johnson asked her for money to support his fledgling insurance business. Graybill says she paid $1,837 for a policy.
“I knew it was going to be bad as soon as I did it,” she says. According to Graybill, her fears were confirmed when the FBI called investigating Johnson. “I can’t believe he would pull a fast one like that on me. This is just so sad.”
The FBI wouldn’t confirm or deny if they were investigating Johnson, who could not be reached for comment. At press time, Johnson’s criminal trial was pending.
Terry Ferguson Construction | Cartersville, Ga.
Terry Ferguson promised to rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but he left his customers worse off than the storm did. On Sept. 26, an Orleans Parish judge sentenced Ferguson to more than 21 years in prison for bilking 16 people out of half a million dollars.
Ferguson, whose business was based in Georgia and was unlicensed to work in Louisiana, pleaded guilty to 16 counts of fraud-related felonies in July. New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro called it one of the worst cases of post-Katrina contractor fraud.
Ernestine Magee, 80, gave Ferguson more than $57,000 to fix her house after floodwaters rose above her front door. Instead, he laid flooring over the old warped floor, failed to install kitchen cabinets, did electrical and drywall work that didn’t meet code and left her garage a rubble heap, Magee says. Then he stopped returning her calls.
Two years after moving back home, Magee is still trying to fix Ferguson’s shoddy and unfinished work.
“He’s got me just living penny by penny,” she says. Derwyn Bunton, chief public defender for Orleans Parish, tells Angie’s List Magazine that Ferguson accepted responsibility for his crimes.
“We think the sentence is unusually long, but at the same time there are no real winners in this case,” Bunton says.
Beohana Solar Corporation | San Jose, Calif.
Maureen DiRubio says she realized she’d been duped after she gave Beohana Solar Corporation a $1,000 deposit to install a solar energy system in her San Jose, Calif., home only to never hear from Beohana again.
Owner Peter Be was arrested in June and charged with 53 counts of theft and contractor fraud for allegedly taking money from more than 40 homeowners but failing to deliver their solar systems. Be allegedly pocketed $141,111 in deposits without providing materials or labor, according to the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office.
“I feel stupid,” DiRubio says. “I’m outraged he could do this to so many people.”
Numerous civil judgments have been issued against Be in Santa Clara Superior Court. As of press time, Be’s criminal plea hearing was scheduled for December 2009 — he faces up to 18 years in prison. The California Contractors State License Board says Be didn’t have a license for the work he contracted to perform.
“The complaints haven’t stopped coming,” says CSLB spokesman Rick Lopes. Be could not be reached for comment.
Crawford & Associates Cleaning | Union, Ky.
A Cincinnati-area housecleaner and her son could face the death penalty for the kidnapping and murder of a retired scientist from Hebron, Ky. Willa Blanc, 48, and Louis Wilkinson, 28, were arrested after Walter Sartory, 73, went missing in mid-February.
Police say Blanc kidnapped Sartory, stole more than $200,000 from him and forged documents to gain power of attorney over his estate. The duo held Sartory captive for about a week in Blanc’s Union, Ky., home before burning and disposing of his body in Morgan County, Ind., according to police.
Blanc first approached the victim while cleaning a house in his neighborhood, then later visited his home, says Boone County (Ky.) Sheriff’s Department spokesman Tom Scheben.
Christine Stadtmiller, who lived near Sartory’s home, hired Blanc for a few months in 2008. She says Blanc did thorough work, but she found it odd that the housekeeper drove a Corvette and had bejeweled nails. “I just felt uncomfortable around her,” Stadtmiller says. “She had a way of controlling people.”
Blanc and Wilkinson have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping and theft by deception, among others, and await trial in a Kentucky jail. Wilkinson’s attorney declined to comment. Blanc’s attorney did not respond to messages.
Home Team Advantage Inc., HomeCo Unlimited | Delray Beach and Oakland Park, Fla.
The owners of Home Team Advantage each face more than 80 criminal charges for allegedly ripping off customers by performing shoddy and incomplete work.
Douglas Livingston and John Ostendorf first were arrested in 2004 on 65 counts of theft and fraud while operating Oakland Park-based HomeCo Unlimited. Livingston was also charged with extortion for allegedly threatening customers. While out on bond, the duo reportedly continued working as Home Team Advantage. A mistrial was declared in 2008 after Livingston was injured in a car crash.
Kelly Rein of Cooper City, Fla., hired Home Team, which has an F on Angie’s List based on two reports and a bad BBB rating, to remodel her house in July 2005. According to Rein, they demolished several rooms and abandoned the project. Rein says she fired Home Team but subcontractors put liens on her home for work she says she’d already paid for.
“We were actually sleeping in a closet for awhile,” Rein says. “It was a nightmare.”
Livingston was arrested again in November 2008 on charges of larceny, fraud and engaging in contracting business without certification. At press time, he was at the Broward County Jail on 89 charges. Ostendorf, who was arrested again in February 2009, faces 81 charges.
The men have two upcoming trials. The first is set to begin this month. Livingston’s attorney declined to comment. An attorney for Ostendorf couldn’t be reached.
— reporting by Staci Giordullo, Joshua Palmer and Emily Udell