When Kevin and Katherine Bakunas moved to Branchburg, they chose a home that was midway through construction.
They dotted every “i” and crossed every “t,” taking special care with all parts of the construction process.
Part of the work that needed to be done was paving the driveway.
A family member who lives in town used a company called Pave Masters several weeks before, so the couple called Pave Masters and several others for estimates.
The couple was very specific about how they wanted the driveway installed: Five-inch thick asphalt driveway laid on top of two inches of stone.
Kevin Bakunas said Pave Masters’ Sam George understood what they needed, and he wrote up a $5,500 contract for the requested specs.
The couple signed the contract and gave George a deposit check for $2,500.
The Bakunas were scheduled to be out of town, and they said they were “adamantly clear” that they didn’t want the work done when no one was home. George agreed to do it later in the week, they said, or the company would give them notice so they could arrange for a family member to be on site.
That didn’t happen.
A crew arrived on Aug. 4, and the couple was alerted by a neighbor.
They said they immediately called George, who explained the crew was in the area so they wanted to get the job done.
“I was appalled at what was left in my driveway,” Kevin Bakunas said.
There were a lot of problems.
“The driveway is wavy/crooked on both sides leading up from the street and has lumps throughout it as it was not properly graded or rolled,” he said. “There are rumble strips at the base of the driveway approximately four inches long — two rows of them — from a machine being left on the hot driveway.”
There were also lumps of asphalt on a new bluestone walkway, and low spots where Bakunas said the driveway is “nowhere near the five-inch thickness stated in the contract.”
The couple called George.
“Sam agreed to rip out and repave the driveway, and said that he wasn’t there to supervise for more than the first hour as the guys got started,” Bakunas said.
George promised to come on Aug. 7 to review the problems.
But George didn’t show, the couple said. When they called, George said he was stuck on another job, and he agreed to come on Aug. 9, they said.
But on Aug. 9, George called to say he was stuck on another job but would call the next day, they said.
The next day, he again agreed to fix the driveway but said he wasn’t sure when he could come, the couple said.
On Aug. 12, a Pave Masters crew showed up unannounced and unscheduled, the couple said, and they were once again alerted by a neighbor.
The couple said they called George, who said the crew was in the neighborhood so they stopped by, but George wouldn’t be there for at least an hour.
Katherine Bakunas sent her father to speak to the foreman.
“The foreman admitted that they didn’t install any stone underneath the driveway before pouring the new asphalt,” she said.
While her dad was there, the town inspector happened to drive by, and he “put an official stop order on the job stating he knew there was no stone placed underneath — which again the foreman admitted and confirmed,” Bakunas said.
Further, the inspector said the contractor was in violation of town regulations because George never filed for a permit, provided proof of insurance or followed right of way requirements, Bakunas said.
“He stated the driveway had to be ripped out and fixed,” she said. “I spoke back and forth with Sam [George] several times and at this point he agreed to rip out the driveway and return my deposit and that we’d go our separate ways.”
For the next several weeks, the couple said, they’d call to see where the check was and to ask for tracking information. Each time, the check was in the mail, or almost in the mail, and George promised to call back with the tracking information.
He never did, and the check never arrived.
In October and again in November, the Bakunas had a lawyer send demand letters to George, asking for the return of the deposit and $2,100 to cover the cost to remove the faulty job, but he didn’t respond.
TRACKING IT DOWN
We reviewed the couple’s paperwork, driveway photos, a video of the driveway and their timeline of events.
The Pave Masters contract violates state regulations that require the company’s Home Improvement Contractor registration number to be on the contract. It isn’t.
The contract is also missing other items, including a start and end date for the job.
The contract lists three addresses for the company.
The first, in Lake Hopatcong, comes up in public records searches as associated with Samuel George.
The second, in Randolph, is the address of record used for the company for its HIC registration with the state, but the company name is listed as “Pavemaster.” It’s also the address used on the company’s business filing with the state, listing George as the owner but the company name as “Pave Masters.”
The third is a post office box in Mt. Arlington.
The contract also shows a website address, but the site was down when we tried it.
We found several numbers for George and we left messages, but he didn’t return any calls.
The hunt continued.
The Lake Hopatcong address listed on the contract came up as associated with a Robert George in public records.
Robert George is also listed on the state business filing for a company called “Pavemaster Paving” in Red Bank. That same Robert George has a Home Improvement Contractor registration with the state, using the same Red Bank address.
He didn’t return our calls, either.
Interestingly, Pavemaster Paving’s address on its Facebook page is the same as a hobby store in that location, and it offers the hobby store’s website on the Pavemaster Paving Facebook page.
The hobby store said it knew nothing of the paving company and would be filing a complaint with Facebook.
The building has several tenants who use the same street number, including a UPS store. A partial explanation, perhaps.
As for whether the Red Bank paving company is related to the one run by Sam George, there seem to be several connections.
While there have been no complaints against Sam George’s Randolph paving company, his name came up in other complaints, according to the Division of Consumer Affairs.
“In November, the Division received two complaints against Pave Masters, owned by Samuel George at 68 White Street, Red Bank,” a spokeswoman said. “The complaints allege poor and faulty work. Those complaints are under review.”
“The Division is also looking into several other paving companies associated with that address and registration number,” she said.
The Home Improvement Contractor registrations for both Sam George and Robert George expire on March 31.
Also worth noting: There’s another company called “Pavemasters” in Bloomingdale, but it doesn’t seem to be related to either George based on public records searches.
So where does that leave the Bakunas?
They can file a complaint with Consumer Affairs, or they can head to court. But if they get a judgment, there’s no guarantee it will be paid.
Public records show three judgments against Sam George since 2015 totaling more than $15,000. The most recent was in February. There were three others dating back to 2002 and 2005.
The Bakunas filed a complaint with Consumer Affairs last week.
The couple says they feel “betrayed.”
“When you hire a contractor and sign a contract, you expect them to do the job they were paid to do as the contract is written but above all else, be honest and respect you as their customer,” Katherine Bakunas said. “Pave Masters is not only in breach of contract for not providing what their contract stated, but after Sam George acknowledged the job was not done properly or to code and agreed to return our deposit, he vanished.”
“We don’t want to see another family taken advantage of like we were,” she said.
We’ll let you know what happens.
Staff researcher Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.
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.