Worst Phoenix Contractors of 2012
Goettl Air Conditioning | Tempe, Ariz.
In April, American Residential Services — a national company that owns Tempe, Ariz.-based Goettl Air Conditioning — signed a consent agreement with the attorney general in which the company agreed to pay $240,000 in restitution and no longer engage in activities the AG alleged misled customers and violated the Consumer Fraud Act. Goettl, which also does business as ARS, admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. As part of the settlement, the AG also withdrew a request that the companies be permanently banned from doing heating and air conditioning work in Phoenix.
The AG’s office said in a statement that dozens of complaints prompted the original suit in September 2011. Allegations against the companies included using scare tactics to sell unneeded work to elderly customers, offering useless warranties, installing solar water heaters without a license and creating advertisements that appeared to be mandatory notices or alerts from government agencies.
Bob von Gruben, general counsel for American Residential Services, could not address individual complaints, but says the company denied all the allegations when it signed the consent agreement. “We entered into this agreement because most of the things they wanted, we were already doing,” he says. “We settled because it wasn’t worth fighting anymore.”
Angie’s List member Mike Racine called Goettl in 2011 for a quote to replace two air handlers in his Phoenix home. Racine says another company quoted a price between $12,000 and $14,000, but the Goettl salesman attempted to sell him units costing $30,000. “I was aghast at that price, and that evening I got a call from the salesman about a little old lady who had two units she didn’t want, so he’d be willing to install them the next day for $14,000,” Racine says. “This sales strategy of dropping the price and then suddenly having the units set off a red flag.” He says he elected not to hire the company when he never received a written quote.
Goettl currently holds a grade of C, based on Angie’s List reviews over the past three years. State records show the company’s license remains valid and they are legally allowed to do air conditioning and refrigeration work in Arizona.
Roger Guy Stowe | Phoenix
Phoenix police say unlicensed handyman Roger Guy Stowe ripped off at least two people in the last year, and possibly many more — and he’s still at large. “So far, we can’t find him,” says James Holmes, public information officer for the Phoenix Police Department.
Charlie Mae Johnson says she learned about him the hard way when she hired him to replace her carpets. The 71-year-old Phoenix homeowner says she paid Stowe $1,200 in May but he never returned. “Every time I called him, he had another lie, and eventually he just changed his phone number,” she says.
In Maricopa County, Ariz., he received probation, three months in jail and a $42,600 restitution order in 2007 after pleading guilty to felony theft, court records say. In October, the court extended the probation by three years, records say. His records also include nearly $34,000 in civil judgments in Maricopa County, a 2011 conviction for unlicensed contracting in Scottsdale, Ariz., and an active warrant for his arrest in Yavapai County, Ariz., after he failed to appear for an unlicensed contracting charge in 2007.
Holmes says Stowe is currently wanted in Maricopa County for unlicensed contracting as a result of the Johnson case. “Once the county attorney is finished reviewing the case, there’s probably going to be another warrant for theft by fraud,” he says. Holmes says police are also investigating a separate case where a homeowner alleged Stowe accepted $3,600 for a remodeling job but never did the work.
Johnson’s case ended more happily than most; police and volunteers replaced her carpet, installed landscaping and painted the house. However, Holmes warns that most cases of contractor fraud against the elderly go unreported. “People are embarrassed or they don’t want to get involved,” he says. “But if people have been victimized, we encourage them to call 602-262-6151. They can also call 480-WITNESS if they don’t wish to be identified.”
Trans-Plant Transmissions | Tempe, Ariz.
“The car never did work right after that.”
Angie's List member Alberto Timpauer of Mesa says Trans-Plant Transmissions, also known as Transplant Plus, made him suspicious after he hired them to fix a transmission. “I don’t think they set up the computer correctly,” he says. “The car never did work right after that.” In June, owner Robert Brady agreed to cease operations after violating a 2011 agreement with the attorney general. The AG’s original complaint says he issued useless warranties, did faulty work and refused to return money customers paid in advance for parts.
Brady agreed to pay $27,835 in restitution in addition to $28,000 already paid in 2011, close down the C-rated shop and refrain from owning or managing an auto repair business for 10 years. The company’s phone numbers are disconnected, and an attorney for the business didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Sun Valley Towing | Phoenix
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered Sun Valley Towing to close down operations and pay nearly $700,000 in fines and restitution as a result of a hidden camera sting operation by the attorney general.
The AG filed suit in April, alleging 59 complaints that the shop performed shoddy work, kept vehicles for months and failed to pay refunds. The suit also says hidden cameras caught workers charging for a fuel pump repair after they simply flipped a fuel cutoff switch.
The court ordered in October that the company pay $67,580 in restitution and $590,000 in civil penalties. It also permanently banned Sun Valley Towing and owners Tim and Rosemary Kunselman from operating a towing or auto repair business in Arizona. “The many serious complaints we received from Sun Valley customers were validated when Sun Valley Towing was caught red-handed charging for repairs they never performed,” AG Tom Horne said in a statement. The company and its attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment.