Worst Miami Contractors of 2011
American Eagle Movers | Pompano Beach, Fla.
Angie's List member Rebecca Stone says she can't imagine how her August move from Austin, Texas, to St. Petersburg could've gone worse. The F-rated American Eagle Movers, which she says she didn't see on the List, arrived a day late, raised the price by $1,200, damaged her furniture, and demanded cash before turning over her belongings, she says.
"They stole art, tables ... a ladder, and my German crystal flutes," Stone says. She estimates damages exceeded $40,000 and says she's working with her insurance company to recoup the losses.
A spokeswoman with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates interstate movers, says it's investigating five complaints against American Eagle, but declined further comment. The agency revoked the company's interstate moving license in May, as well as three other times since 2005, because of lack of insurance.
Robert Buck, vice president at American Eagle, contends the company's interstate moving license was reinstated before Stone's August move, but online records show it wasn't reinstated until September. Buck also says he fired the driver who moved Stone's belongings.
In response to questions about Stone's calls for a refund and compensation for damages, Buck says a third party handles complaints and that most moves are completed without problems. He declined to name the third party or provide additional information. In addition to Stone's F report, American Eagle has three other F reports filed by members in 2011.
John Bisney, a spokesman for the American Moving & Storage Association, says the trade organization, which received three complaints against American Eagle, revoked the company's membership in 2011 because the company had its interstate moving authority revoked.
1st Continental Mortgage | Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Boca Raton, Fla.
Reneta Smith of West Palm Beach says she met Marcus Echevarria, a loan officer at 1st Continental Mortgage, when seeking a home loan modification. She says he suggested a reverse mortgage, which allows homeowners 62 and older to turn equity into monthly income or a line of credit.
Smith hoped the reverse mortgage and loan modification for which she paid $2,500 upfront, would help her pay bills. "It seemed so real. I just couldn't believe it could happen," says Smith, who never received a loan modification or reverse mortgage.
In June, the U.S. attorney's office filed one felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against 1st Continental employees Echevarria and John Incandela, as well as Louis Gendason, who operated 1st Continental's offices in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, and title agent Kimberly Mackey of Pittsburgh.
Authorities alleged the foursome perpetrated a reverse mortgage and loan modification scheme that defrauded elderly borrowers on 13 properties, as well as financial institution Genworth and the Federal Housing Authority of millions, according to court records.
All four defendants pleaded guilty in the case. In November, Echevarria - whose attorney, Paul Molle, declined comment for this report - received a two-year prison sentence, followed by five years of supervised release. Mackey received a five-year sentence, followed by five years of supervised release.
A U.S. District Court judge ordered them to pay more than $1.6 million in restitution. Sentencing for Gendason and Incandela was set for Dec. 16, as of press time. A notice alerts members to the felony charges.
Based on allegedly false documentation provided by 1st Continental that inflated home values, Genworth approved and the FHA insured nearly $2.6 million in reverse mortgage loans, according to court records.
Authorities say Mackey failed to pay off borrowers' existing mortgages and diverted more than $988,000 to a bank account controlled by Incandela and Gendason, who allegedly used the money for personal benefit along with Echevarria.
Phone numbers at both 1st Continental offices are disconnected. Attorneys for Gendason, Incandela and Mackey didn't return calls.
Rolladen | Hallandale, Fla.
Richard Netzley of Boynton Beach says he paid Rolladen a deposit of $4,800 for hurricane shutters, but the company never did any work. "There was one excuse after another," he says.
The Florida attorney general filed suit in July against Rolladen owner Robert Hoffman on charges of taking deposits from about 200 customers, but never installing windows and shutters or issuing refunds. A notice alerts members to the AG lawsuit.
Hoffman agreed in August to a one-year ban on marketing or selling the installation of shutters and windows and raised $731,000 to repay customers for incomplete work, according to court records.
Because he paid restitution, the Broward state attorney's office opted in November to file a misdemeanor charge of unlicensed contracting instead of a felony fraud charge, a spokesman says.
Dave Bogenshutz, Hoffman's attorney, says tough times caused Rolladen to break promises to customers.
VGC Corp. of America/ All Dream Vacations | Doral, Fla.
The Florida attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission filed suit in May against VGC and All Dream Vacations, alleging more than 400 customers lost money when they responded to deceptive ads for vacation contests on Spanish-language media.
The AG says the companies deceived customers by telling them they'd won free vacations, which they could claim after paying $200 to $400 in taxes. The AG says no one received a free vacation, and the FTC estimates the companies received about $14 million from consumers.
"I had to miss out on the only vacation me and my two sons can take a year," says Miami resident Alexis Borrero, who paid $299 for his "prize."
In May, a judge issued a temporary restraining order to shut down the companies. An attorney representing VGC and company officers Cesar and Violeta Gonzalez says a proposed settlement awaits FTC approval but declined further comment. A notice alerts members to the AG lawsuit.
- by Michael Schroeder