The Case of the Home Improvement Crooks
Our client in The Woodlands wanted to widen her driveway and add a pool and cabana area outfitted for barbecuing in her back yard. She selected a company who advertised extensively in The Woodlands area as being an expert in those specific areas. The owner of the company sent his sales manager to bid the job and collect a $25,000 down payment. The company never got the required permits but did come out and dig up the driveway, never returning.
Our initial investigative efforts centered around the background investigation of the owner and his company, along with the sales manager. We learned that the sales manager had been recently placed on probation for theft (what a surprise). The sales manager had worked for a legitimate pool company and in the normal scope of his job responsibilities collected deposits from customers. He then opened up a checking account with similar name to the legitimate company, depositing the checks and keeping the money for himself.
We learned that the owner of the company, who took our client’s $25,000, was also on probation for taking money from customers and never completing their jobs.
We identified a number of complaints about the company regarding unfinished and sloppy work. We also learned that the photographs of completed jobs on the owner’s website were actually stolen from a website of a company in the State of California.
The owner of the company had closed his office and went to great lengths to keep his residential address difficult to find. Kayla Koenig, our ace research analyst, conducted a number of database searches which enabled Edna Velez and JJ Gradoni to show up at his residence one afternoon. The owner wasn’t home, but we did speak to his wife and informed her that we were trying to obtain his version of events before our client filed criminal charges. As a result of our visit, the owner called our office but declined an in person interview. During the phone conversation he did admit taking the $25,000, stating the only reason he didn’t complete the work was because the client had not obtained the necessary permits.
When JJ suggested that he refund the client her money so she could find another contractor, he informed JJ that he had no intention of refunding the money even though he had not started the job, or purchased the swimming pool our client had ordered.
The sales manager had a condition of probation that he would no longer be involved in the home repair industry. The probation was revoked after 3 months and he is now in prison.
The consumer fraud division of the District Attorney’s office is utilizing our investigation along with 6 other complaints to obtain an indictment, which will be coming in the future, on the owner of the company. Sadly enough, our client has no opportunity to recover her loss and has had to hire a legitimate company to perform the work at her home.
It is JJ’s opinion that if our client had done a little research on her own or hired a company to background the individual she was dealing with the loss of the $25,000 down payment would most likely have never occurred.
Return to the February 2014 Investigator’s Newsletter