Worst Charlotte Contractors of 2010
Certified Estate Planners Inc. | Hendersonville, N.C.
For a decade, Gastonia resident Roy Auten happily invested his life savings with investment adviser Bryan Noel. When Noel formed his own company, Certified Estate Planners, Auten moved his $187,000 retirement fund there. The 1996 retiree says he didn't know that choice would leave him with only monthly Social Security and pension checks to pay his bills. "I had no hint until July 31, 2006, when my check wasn't in my bank," Auten says of the monthly retirement payouts he relied on. "I couldn't get through to anybody. We went to the police, who said it was turned over to the FBI."
According to court records, Noel and his firm sold secure stock market investments to retirees - sometimes promising 20 percent returns. But much of the investments were lost and about $4.5 million - of about $10 million entrusted to CEP - was invested in Noel's two start-up companies, which failed. Noel hid the losses from investors, who received bogus statements showing growing nest eggs.
One of Noel's employees notified the FBI of the scam. In March, a U.S. District Court jury convicted Noel of 22 felony charges, including 14 counts of mail fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering. U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Suellen Pierce says investigators are working to recover Noel's assets to provide restitution to victims.
Noel, confined in the Buncombe County Jail, was scheduled to be sentenced by the end of 2010. He faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each charge. Noel's attorney, Claire Rauscher, declined to comment.
704 Locksmiths/NC Charlotte Locksmith/Locksmith Services | Charlotte, N.C.
Ed Walters, owner of highly rated Raleigh Locksmith Service, says he became upset when he started receiving calls complaining of shoddy work - especially since the callers weren't his customers. Instead, they were customers duped by a phony locksmith scam operated by Tamir Avraham and Anna Konevsky, according to a lawsuit filed in August by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.
The suit alleges Avraham and Konevsky used more than 40 business names, such as NC Charlotte Locksmith and Raleigh-Locksmith, to set up phone numbers and websites claiming to be local, licensed locksmiths. "I was the biggest victim of everybody," Walters says.
Not only did he lose business, he says, but the scam also tarnished his name and he says he received threatening phone calls from Avraham after complaining to authorities. He wasn't the only victim. Locked-out customers called and received low quotes, but fees spiked by $100 or more after unlicensed, untrained workers drilled out their locks, then tacked on extra fees and demanded payment in cash, according to court records.
That's what happened to Raleigh resident Gena Triplett's 19-year-old son, who called her after locking himself out of his car. The locksmith she found online quoted $29, but the final bill was $137. "We were scammed," she says.
In August, a Wake County Superior Court judge permanently banned Avraham, Konevsky, their companies and employees from doing business in North Carolina. The pair still owe more than $1.2 million in fines, AG spokeswoman Noelle Talley says, and authorities believe they've left the country.
Hazelton Management/ The Carley Group LLC | Charlotte, N.C.
Matthews resident Sam Cortez says Hazelton Management owner Keith Turner offered assistance in preventing his home foreclosure for a fee.
Turner even offered to rent the home himself to help pay Cortez's mortgage during the process. But Hazelton Management did nothing and Turner paid no rent, says Cortez, who estimates he lost more than $7,000, but retained his home. "I'm one of those people who got conned, and I don't know how," he says.
Turner's companies, Hazelton Management and The Carley Group, illegally collected upfront fees from consumers for foreclosure prevention services, then didn't perform any services, according to a June lawsuit filed by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. A Wake County Superior Court judge temporarily banned Turner from doing business in North Carolina after 26 consumers complained to the AG's office, spokeswoman Noelle Talley says.
The state is seeking a permanent ban and restitution for customers. Turner couldn't be located for comment.
Patriot Waste Systems Inc. | Dallas, N.C.
Gaston County residents, who signed contracts with Patriot Waste Systems, say the company often picked up trash late, but eventually failed to show up at all and never refunded their money.
"Everybody's trash was piling up right after the first of the year," says Dallas Township resident Ron Kinsey. "I paid for two months in advance: $48. But I talked to several people who paid a year in advance, like $200. It was ridiculous."
Kinsey says Patriot owners Tony and Teresa Salvi never refunded the fees. In frustration, irate customers dumped their trash at Patriot's headquarters in Dallas, says Dallas Community Development Administrator David Kahler.
The company, which is reportedly out of business, garnered 51 unresolved complaints with the Charlotte BBB. The Salvis couldn't be located for comment.
— by Meranda Watling