Worst Houston Contractors of 2012
Andy Bueno and Anthony Fanelli | Houston
Amy Van Vleck says she opened her door to find three men in red “RDM Moving” T-shirts although her husband had hired a company named Metro Movers. The Van Vlecks, who live in Northern Texas, were among victims in Houston, San Antonio and Austin scammed by Andy Bueno and Anthony Fanelli who operated businesses under 13 names, according to court documents.
Houston police arrested Bueno and Fanelli in March, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. The Harris County District Attorney charged the two men with the first-degree felony of aggregate securing execution of documents by deception, according to Assistant DA Valerie Turner. Due to a prior felony conviction, Fanelli faces the possibility of a longer sentence if he’s convicted, Turner added.
The DA accuses the men of soliciting jobs on Craigslist for a low fee, getting customers to sign a contract and later altering the contract with a higher price. According to the court filing, Bueno and Fanelli would present the altered document once a client’s possessions were packed and if a cash payment couldn’t be made, they’d drive away with the person’s belongings.
Van Vleck expected to pay about $400 for her 3.5-mile move, but ended up paying $3,771 to recoup the family’s possessions, she says. The truck contained 15 years of the family’s life, including photos and antiques, so Van Vleck she felt she had to pay, she says. “It was robbery,” Van Vleck says. “Holding your belongings hostage, what a clever way to make a buck.”
Fanelli is in Harris County Jail while Bueno’s out on bond, and no trial date is set, Turner says. Fanelli’s attorney, John Floyd, says his client pleaded not guilty. Floyd says Bueno blamed Fanelli in an attempt to reduce his punishment. “There’ve been a lot of claims made against him that were unfounded,” Floyd said. “We’re planning on basically asserting a fairly vigorous offense and believe that he’ll be acquitted.” Attempts to reach Bueno’s lawyer were unsuccessful. None of the companies are licensed in Texas, according to U.S. Department of Transportation records.
Arkidus Home Protection | Miami, Fla.
The prompt service Spring, Texas, Angie's List member Connie Prutting says she received when she bought a home warranty from Arkidus Home Protection, purchased along with her new home, was nowhere to be found when she had a claim to repair a gas leak detected in her sewage system. “That’s when it all started to unravel,” says Prutting, who adds that she paid $499 for the warranty and joined Angie’s List after the experience.
Arkidus landed in the Angie's List Penalty Box 23 times nationwide in 2012.
Prutting says her phone calls to Arkidus weren’t returned so she filed a claim with her homeowner’s insurance for the $5,000 bill and an F review on Angie’s List. Hers is one of 50 F reviews and five D’s the Miami-based home warranty company received since May, with members in 21 states saying Arkidus failed to provide promised services, didn’t respond to phone calls and emails and never provided promised refunds. The company also landed in the Penalty Box 23 times in 2012 after not responding to complaints from members in 12 of those states.
Arkidus isn’t licensed to sell home warranties in Texas, according to the Texas Real Estate Commission. The Florida Department of Financial Services opened an investigation into the company, according to the agency, which also issued a consumer advisory to customers in the Sunshine State in August. The attorneys general in Virginia and Maryland each confirmed receiving complaints against Arkidus, according to interviews with representatives of those offices.
Arkidus’ website informs customers it went out of business “due to financial loss,” but to contact them for refunds. Prutting says she submitted an email and received a telephone appointment time to speak with owner Reinaldo “Ray” Berges, which her husband handled. Three weeks after forwarding the claim to Berges, the Pruttings received an email response from Berges stating a payment plan would be set up, she says.
When contacted by Angie’s List Magazine, Berges did reply to an email but declined to address questions about how he planned to refund customers’ money or what happened to his business. “The company is no longer in business and not operating,” he says in the email. “Any unresolved issues with clients will be handled. They simply need to email firstname.lastname@example.org for further instructions.”
AF Construction | Pasadena, Texas
“He just took the money and disappeared.”
Mouin Srouji says he paid D-rated AF Construction $9,000 to build a bathroom and another room at his Houston home starting last January, but the project never began. “He just took the money and disappeared,” said Srouji, adding that his wife borrowed money from her 401(k) for the renovation. A message at the firm’s number says calls aren’t accepted. Owner Ray Hernandez didn’t respond to emails.
Alvin, Texas, Angie's List member Debbie Edwards says she paid Hernandez $13,000 for a bathroom remodel, but ended up firing him for shoddy work and paying another $9,000 for repairs. “Behind the cabinets, underneath, we found a gap of about one-half-inch wide where he didn’t fill that with grout,” Edwards says. “He kept saying ‘craftsman’ — I call it ‘craps man.’” The Better Business Bureau fielded 16 complaints on AF Construction and revoked its accreditation.
Sandstone Pool Service | Spring, Texas
“They were really horrendous.”
Angie’s List members who hired the Sandstone Pool Service accuse the F-rated company of poor service or failing to deliver service, along with over-inflated and faulty charges. Houston member Jose Espinoza says Sandstone charged him $570 for a part that costs $20 at a local hardware store, overcharged his credit card and billed him for services never rendered. “They were really horrendous,” Espinoza says. Sandstone owner Al Vanderberghe didn’t return emails or phone calls seeking comment.
Michael Stroud of Houston says he paid $150 a month for weekly cleaning, but debris remained floating in his pool. Vanderberghe initially wanted to remedy the service issues but then ignored his calls, says Stroud, who filed one of seven BBB complaints against the firm and joined Angie’s List. “They bill you upfront and then they don’t perform services that you’ve already paid for a month in advance,” he says.