Worst Philadelphia Contractors of 2009

Worst Philadelphia Contractors of 2009

Wright Construction | Quakertown, Pa.

Contractor Richard Edward Wright left a trail of more than a dozen victims, unfinished home improvement projects and unpaid bills in New Hope, Doylestown, Wrightstown, East Greenville and elsewhere in Bucks and Montgomery counties.

The trail ends at the Bucks County Community Corrections Center, where Wright was scheduled to be released in December after serving a six-month sentence on five felony convictions: theft, receiving stolen property, deceptive business practices and two counts of writing bad checks.

The contractor, who also operated under Wright Contracting, Wright Carpentry and ProFormBlock/Pro Contractors, pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced July 1. At least one victim also won a $2,438 civil judgment against him in 2006 but has not been able to collect, according to court documents.

"I was robbing Peter to pay Paul," Wright says of using customers' down payments to land other jobs or buy materials, according to court documents.

A judge also ordered Wright to pay $50,000 in restitution to at least 12 victims.

Tony and Judy Quattrone of New Hope say they paid Wright $24,371 for a room addition, skylights and a pellet stove. The skylights and stove were never ordered, the job was left unfinished and the work he did do was "substandard," according to court documents. The court ordered Wright to pay the Quattrones $12,504.81 in restitution.

Judy says she no longer pays contractors in cash and she checks numerous references before hiring.

Wright's attorney, David Sowerbutts, says his client's good intentions exceeded his business acumen. "He got in over his head," he says. "This was not a scheme where he deliberately set out to take money from people."

Joseph Forte LP | Broomall, Pa.

Cindy Bell says investment manager Joseph Forte bilked millions of dollars from her, her husband, Steve, and their two daughters. "It was brutal," she says of the $4,800 that remained in her checking account after her dealings with Forte.

Her lost nest egg represents a fraction of the more than $50 million Forte has confessed to stealing through a setup known as a "Ponzi scheme," through which investors are paid returns with their own money or money from new investors.

Forte scammed at least 80 clients, according to court documents. He was convicted of wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced on Nov. 24 to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay $34.8 million in restitution.

Still pending are federal civil charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Forte was not registered with the SEC, the CFTC or the Pennsylvania Securities Commission, as required by law.

Bell met Forte through her father, Bruce Hooper, who lost money to Forte both personally and through his charitable foundation, Thornton D. and Elizabeth S. Hooper Foundation. The foundation's 2007 tax return, filed in May 2009, showed more than $15 million invested with Forte.

The Bells are adjusting. Cindy has taken a job outside the home and her youngest daughter's private school provided a scholarship to ensure she will graduate in 2011 with her classmates. Her eldest daughter, a University of Maryland junior, canceled her spring break plans and increased her work hours.

"A month after this happened, my dad had a massive stroke — a stress-induced stroke," Cindy says. "We backed down from caring too much about the money after that."

— reporting by Matthew Brady