Bamboozled December 25, 2017: The 2017 Hall of Shame

Twice a week, we dedicate this space to the many ways consumers are taken advantage of, misled, given the runaround or conned out of their hard-earned cash.

It’s a big universe of chicanery. But some cases stand out as particularly egregious for the financial pain and needless emotional distress inflicted on honest people who expect honest services.

Here, then, is the rogues’ gallery of individuals and companies that made it into Bamboozled’s 2017 Hall of Shame.

A.J. PERRI

Last January, an employee of A.J. Perri, one of the state’s largest plumbing, heating and cooling companies, claimed the company wasn’t honest when it replaced a supposedly busted sewer pipe at the home of an 83-year-old man.

Karl Baer stands in front of a new 60-foot sewer pipe installed by A.J. Perri. An anonymous employee told Bamboozled the job wasn’t necessary.

The employee said the job — to replace 60 feet of pipe for $11,501 — was unnecessary. The person provided documents and internal email messages, calling it proof the company was “defrauding a senior.”

A.J. Perri denied the allegations.

After that story ran, Bamboozled was inundated with email and Facebook messages from other consumers who said they had questionable experiences with the company.

Consumers alleged, among other things, that A.J. Perri used scare tactics to upsell unnecessary jobs and wrongly told customers there was dangerous carbon monoxide coming from their equipment.

The state’s plumbing board, which has the power to impose civil penalties and revoke licenses, took action. It opened a case  and took testimony from Perri customers.

At the same time, dozens of Perri customers told Bamboozled the company had contacted them to offer discounts on previously completed work.

Consumer Affairs said the case is still “under review.”

We’ll keep you posted.

CONSTRUCTION SCAMMER TIMES TWO

In our Hall of Shame last year was a contractor who allegedly took $30,000 of insurance money to repair a fire-damaged home owned by 83-year-old Gwendolyn Dixon.

But, Dixon said, he disappeared without doing any work.

A mug shot of Michael Solise, who was arrested in the Essex County Courthouse.

The contractor — Michael Solise of Clean Air USA — is back on this year’s list because he was indicted in July on a third degree theft by deception charge based on the Dixon case.

Solise has applied for Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), according to the prosecutor’s office in Essex County.

Solise was also served by Consumer Affairs with a Notice of Violation, which assessed $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, a spokeswoman said.

That action is still pending.

In the meantime, Dixon is still out of her home, and now we have a second contractor to add to the Hall of Shame.

Gwendolyn Dixon stands in her home after it was destroyed by a fire.

Dixon hired Sulaimun Jenkins, whose business goes by Y&N Construction and 5 Star Restoration Services, to take over the job.

He accepted $58,900 to do the work, documents show, and he said the project would be done in December of last year.

According to Dixon, the work is far from complete, and it’s been sporadic at best.

Consumer Affairs has been in conversations with Jenkins, but the work still isn’t done.

And we have an 83-year-old woman still out of her home.

Shame.

THE NEW JERSEY LOTTERY

The New Jersey Lottery came up with a game that was a real loser.

The $5 scratch-off, “High Card Poker,” offered a grand prize of $150,000.

John Kelly thought he won with a hand that showed a 3, 7, 10, Queen and a King. He believed it beat the scratch-off dealer’s hand of a 2, 5, 8, Queen and King.

By the rules of traditional poker, Kelly’s hand had the high card.

But the Lottery said it was a loser.

The rules of the game said a win is when “Your high card is higher than any other card in hand without any pair.”

John Kelly holds a lottery ticket he thought was a $150,000 winner.

While Kelly had no pair, and he had the high card after the face card ties.

The Lottery said in the game’s language, the high card had to be “higher than any card” — even the ones that were part of the ties.

Kelly disagreed.

“The rules even say high card without a pair wins. Doesn’t say anywhere in the rules about a tie,” he said.

Other players told Bamboozled they had similar hands but were also told their cards were losers.

The Lottery pulled the game from store shelves after just three days, saying it was discontinued because “the game win scenarios and rules on the back of the ticket are not the same as the rules of traditional poker, which may have been confusing to some players.”

Confusing, indeed.

SANDY SCAMMER AND STUPID DEADLINES

After Sandy damaged the Pelican Island home of Gail and Don Seckler, the couple used funding from the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation program (RREM) to pay for repairs and raise the home.

But Don Seckler, 82, uses a wheelchair, so he would need a lift to access the home. The couple qualified for a state program from Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Division of Disability Services that would pay for a lift to be installed.

That was good, but first, they needed to complete construction on the home.

They hired a RREM-approved contractor, Price Home Group of Manahawkin. But the work wasn’t done. The contractor allegedly stole money from the Secklers and other homeowners.

Luckily, there was a RREM provision to allow the couple to be reimbursed for the money the contractor allegedly stole, but not until a case was filed against the company.

When it finally was, the couple was able to hire a new contractor, and they were back in the home in April 2017.

But when they contacted the state to have their already-approved lift installed, they learned the program was out of money and they were out of luck.

Now they have a home with 10 steps that Don Seckler has to navigate on his bottom.

We may have good news on this front. Several companies came forward to offer services to the Secklers for free, and some of our very generous readers sent money to help them with costs for a lift.

More on that in the weeks to come, dear readers.

CONTINUING CARE RETIREMENT COMMUNITIES

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) house some 10,000 New Jersey seniors. They include assisted living facilities, independent living communities and long-term care units.

They also hang on to their residents’ money long after units are vacated.

When someone moves into a CCRC, they put down a large payment — hundreds of thousands of dollars — and contracts generally say 90 percent of the fee will be returned when the resident moves out, or it will be returned their estates when they die.

Most contracts say the money will be refunded after a unit is reoccupied. The catch? There is no time limit on when CCRCs must return the money.

Pat Lund is suing a Continuing Care Retirement Community that’s held onto her money for eight years.

It’s been more than eight years of waiting for Patricia Lund, 79, who recently filed a lawsuit to get back the $160,083 she says she’s owed.

It took five years for Ed Nagle to get back only a fraction of the $245,538 that was due to his mother’s estate.

Nagle has been at the forefront of trying to get legislation to put a time limit on how long CCRCs can hold onto this money.

So far, the bill hasn’t passed and it’s expected to be reintroduced in the next session.

Let’s hope.

EQUIFAX

Of all the data hacks we’ve seen this year — and we’ve seen many — Equifax wins the ugly prize.

The private information of more than 143 million people was compromised, and we won’t know the full impact for years because the exposed Social Security numbers, credit card account numbers, driver’s license and other information can be held in reserve by scammers for future frauds and cons.

But be sure, we will see it.

If you haven’t already, consider freezing your credit report, and as always, be sure to check your credit files once a year. You can do that for free, annually, at annualcreditreport.com.

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