A.J. Perri customers to give testimony about allegations

Customers of plumbing giant A.J. Perri, under fire for its aggressive sales practices, are scheduled to testify before the state’s Board of Master Plumbers at its meeting Thursday, according to several people who said they planned to attend.

The customers said they were contacted by the agency as part of its investigation into complaints against A.J. Perri, one of the state’s largest plumbing, heating and air conditioning companies. Customers allege the company used scare tactics to make large sales and, in some cases, to perform unnecessary work.

Though the company is not on the board’s agenda, the customers said they will offer testimony during an executive session, which is not open to the public. The plumbing board, under the umbrella of the Division of Consumer Affairs, regulates New Jersey’s plumbing industry and has the power to impose civil penalties and revoke licenses.

The company, meanwhile, has been contacting some former customers with offers of refunds contingent on them signing non-disclosure agreements, customers said.

Attorney General Christopher Porrino said he couldn’t confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, but letters to consumers from the plumbing board have characterized the inquiry as an investigation.

Porrino called the allegations “troubling” and said his office takes them very seriously.

“We have laws protecting consumers from fraud and deceit, and we are prepared to enforce them,” Porrino said. “Though we cannot comment on whether an investigation is or is not pending as to A.J. Perri, we will not hesitate to use our civil and criminal enforcement authority where appropriate.”

A.J. Perri president Kevin Perri denies wrongdoing. He said the plumbing board made the company aware of customer complaints and that the company has and “will continue to cooperate” with the board.

The state’s investigation began after Bamboozled profiled several consumers who said A.J. Perri recommended and performed work that wasn’t needed, leading to jobs that cost thousands of dollars.

Customer allegations included claims that A.J. Perri used fear tactics to get customers to act immediately for jobs that weren’t always needed and steered employees to offer the most expensive solution first. Former and current employees confirmed consumer accounts.

Since the stories ran, dozens more A.J. Perri customers complained to Bamboozled via email, while hundreds of others shared their experiences on Facebook and in NJ.com’s comments section.

Perri called Bamboozled’s columns “grossly unfair.”

“We adamantly and categorically deny that our business in any way promotes, endorses or encourages any behavior that mistreats our customers,” Perri said. “We feel strongly that the recent articles clearly misconstrue the facts and purposely sensationalize circumstances to fit the theme of a newspaper column.”

Since February 2017, the plumbing board has received 21 complaints against A.J. Perri, all pertaining to fees/billing practices, a Consumer Affairs spokeswoman said. Of those, 15 are pending and six have been resolved, she said.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Some customers who complained said A.J. Perri reached out to them, offering cash back in exchange for signing non-disclosure agreements and waivers of liability.

They were offered refunds worth as much as 50 percent, the customers said.

Some consumers said they accepted the deal to put the headaches behind them.

“It has been stressful waiting for an uncertain outcome, so we decided to take what we could and put this behind us,” said one homeowner who accepted the deal.

Those who refused the offers said they preferred to pursue their complaints with the state.

He said he hung up on the rep.

Kevin Perri called “inaccurate” our question about non-disclosure forms, saying the company has always maintained and honored an unconditional money-back satisfaction guarantee.

“Customers choosing to take advantage of our guarantee are free to discuss or share their experience with whomever they choose,” he said.

That’s not what customers told Bamboozled.

Consumers can file complaints with Consumer Affairs online or by calling (973) 504-6200. We’ll keep you posted on any state investigations that follow.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.