A contractor wanted by law enforcement in a case followed closely by Bamboozled was arrested last week after authorities noticed him at the Essex County Courthouse.
Michael Solise, of Newark, was indicted in July by an Essex County grand jury on a third degree theft by deception charge in the case of Gwendolyn Dixon, an 83-year-old homeowner in East Orange.
Dixon signed a contract with Solise and his company, Clean Air USA, to repair her home after it suffered extensive damage in a March 2016 electrical fire. Solise took nearly $30,000 of insurance money in July 2016 without doing any work on the home, Dixon said.
Then he disappeared, she added.
The homeowner filed a police report after Solise stopped returning her calls, and that’s when the Essex County prosecutor’s office got involved.
Dixon appeared before the grand jury, and the grand jury handed down Solise’s indictment.
But authorities said they still couldn’t find Solise.
A hearing on the case was scheduled for Aug. 18, and Dixon planned to attend.
She said she saw Solise there. He acted as if nothing had happened, she said.
“He said hi, and said we had a mess and he was going to get it straightened out, or something like that,” Dixon said.
Law enforcement sources, however, had a different story.
Solise arrived in the courthouse, an official said, asking the clerk if there was an open warrant in his name. When the clerk said she thought there was a warrant but she needed to get the paperwork, “he amscrayed,” the law enforcement official said.
The Aug. 18 hearing would have happened with or without Solise, authorities said, but the judge called in sick and they couldn’t get a replacement. The hearing would be rescheduled.
But then on Monday, Aug. 21, Solise walked into the courthouse again, law enforcement said.
The court staff recognized him as someone who walked out on a warrant, and a sheriff’s officer was informed, a law enforcement source said.
Solise was arrested, authorities said.
He was released Aug. 23. Under New Jersey’s reworked bail reform law, no cash bail was set, a spokeswoman said, but the judge set certain conditions. Those include that Solise may not commit any offense during the period of release, he may not contact Dixon or any possible witnesses in the case and he must stay in touch with Pretrial Services.
His next appearance in court will be for his arraignment, but that date hasn’t yet been set, the spokeswoman said.
That might be a good time for the Division of Consumer Affairs to have a chat with Solise.
After Dixon’s complaint and Bamboozled’s inquiries, the agency investigated.
It prepared a Notice of Violation against Solise, assessing $29,579.35 in consumer restitution and $6,250 in civil penalties for acting as an unregistered contractor and other violations of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, Contractors Registration Act and Home Improvement Regulations.
But because the division hadn’t been able to locate him after several attempts, Solise hasn’t been served with the papers, the agency said.
Maybe it will happen at the arraignment.
Solise, reached by telephone Friday, said he had no comment.
STILL WITHOUT HER HOME
Meanwhile, Dixon is still not back in her home.
She’s continuing her battle with a second contractor, Sulaimun Jenkins, whose business goes by the names Y&N Construction and 5 Star Restoration Services.
Jenkins signed a contract in the spring to complete Dixon’s home for the remaining insurance money plus a few extra thousand more — a total of $58,900, according to documents.
August is almost over, and Dixon said the home is nowhere near complete.
We’ve stayed in touch with Dixon all summer, getting a weekly play-by-play on the job’s status.
Some progress has been made since we last wrote about Dixon in July,but Dixon says it’s maybe only 50 percent finished and the contractor is unreliable.
She said Jenkins continues to make promises but then does not show up, and he often doesn’t return phone calls. Occasionally, Jenkins will drop off day laborers to do work at the home, Dixon said.
More recently, Jenkins has claimed Dixon needed PSE&G to restore electricity to the home before he could continue work. Dixon said the utility said more inspections were needed first, but town inspectors said Jenkins never made the request.
Plus, she said, Jenkins has always used a portable generator when he needed power in the home, and much of the work that still needs to be done has nothing to do with electricity.
Indeed, photos of the home show incomplete work, such as an unfinished bathroom, missing windows, unfinished walls and mounds of garbage in the yard. These and other items appear to be unrelated to any need for electricity.
“I’m so tired of him, as you can imagine,” said Dixon, whose lease for a nearby apartment is almost expired. “It is totally ridiculous. He just keeps prolonging and making excuses.”
Bamboozled hasn’t been the only one monitoring the job.
Throughout the summer, a Consumer Affairs investigator has checked in on the progress with Jenkins and with the homeowner, and according to Dixon, Jenkins has lied to the inspector.
“The Division is concerned that Ms. Dixon is still unable to return to her home as she awaits the completion of renovations to repair the damage done by the fire,” a spokeswoman said. “We will continue to work with the contractor to expedite the resolution of the outstanding issues and we are prepared to take enforcement action in the event that the renovations are not completed as contracted for.”
We’re looking forward to finally seeing Dixon back in her home, and we’ll you posted.