Tom Maleski was ready to take the plunge and invest in some home improvements.
The job at hand was to remove an existing concrete driveway and replace it with a driveway made of paving stones, adding a paving stone patio to match.
But instead of a new driveway, Maleski was left with a path between his and his neighbor’s homes that turned into a four-inch deep river when it rained. Another side effect was a mound of dirt blocking access to his front door. The mound was as high as the front stoop on the North Arlington home.
It all started when Maleski signed an $11,000 contract with AJD Group and contractor Brian Keiper in March. The homeowner handed over a $4,000 deposit, followed by checks for $3,000, $1,800 and $200, records show.
Two of the checks were made out to Keiper per the contractor’s request, records show.
That should have been a red flag — we later learned Keiper isn’t officially the company’s owner.
And Maleski didn’t know it at the time, but Keiper and AJD Group have been the subject of numerous lawsuits and judgments.
Back to the job.
After the contract was signed, Maleski selected the paving stones he wanted.
Keiper reported it would take 12 to 14 days to get the materials, text messages show.
Work started on April 7 with the removal of the existing concrete driveway, Maleski said.
“During this portion of the project, my vinyl fence was damaged along with the drainage pipe in the front of the house,” he said.
Next there would be a delay because the contractor said he needed to call for a utility mark-out, Maleski said.
Finally on April 19, the excavator arrived to fix the soil to the proper depths, Maleski said. But when he arrived home, Maleski said, it didn’t look right.
He said he asked Keiper to come by to review the work.
Keiper said he was on vacation, text messages show, but he promised to come the following Monday.
He didn’t show, Maleski said.
Maleski said he tried to contact the contractor, who wasn’t always answering his messages. After several days, Keiper texted, “Gonna fix it all.”
But that didn’t happen. There were several more no-shows, Maleski said, and several more broken promises.
It all led to a bigger mess.
“I sent Brian a text on May 12, showing him a photograph with about four inches of standing water for the entire length of the driveway where the concrete slab was removed,” Maleski said. “I was getting water in the basement.”
Once again, the contractor promised to come by but he never showed up, Maleski said.
The homeowner started to ask more questions, such as when the materials would be delivered.
Keiper gave several different dates, but none of the materials ever arrived, Maleski said.
So the homeowner asked where the materials had been ordered from, but the contractor dodged the question, text messages show.
Then there was silence for more days as Keiper ignored Maleski’s messages, he said.
Maleski said when he finally got a response, Keiper said he could finish the job by the end of June, and he agreed to come to the home every morning at 7 a.m. to review the status with Maleski.
But that didn’t happen, Maleski said.
“The last return exchange from Brian was on June 8, 2017. I have sent him numerous text messages, emails and phone calls. The phone goes directly to voice mail,” Maleski said.
Maleski said he still has water issues every time it rains, and he needs to pump standing water from the driveway to reduce the chance that it will enter his basement.
“At this point I do not see this contractor ever finishing my project,” Maleski said.
He wants Keiper to show him a paid-in-full invoice for all the materials that were supposedly ordered. Then he could deal with the supplier himself, Maleski said.
“Another option is to send me a certified bank check for the full amount that I have paid him for the work that he was to perform,” he said. “I will also need his insurance information so I can repair the areas that his workers have damaged.”
We reviewed dozens of text messages, the contract, invoices and other documents, and then we took a closer look at Keiper and the company — which on paper, doesn’t belong to him.
AJD Group is owned by Donna Witt Holland, according to state filings. Holland is also listed as the company owner on the firm’s Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) registration. The same Verona address — which is also the address on the contract and invoices provided to Maleski — is listed on both filings. That property is owned by Holland, records show.
There have been six lawsuits against AJD Group, five against Keiper and one against Holland, public records show. There are six judgments against Keiper.
Worth noting is that Keiper was also named in lawsuits against another contracting company — BK Group of Rockaway — for which Keiper had a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) registration until 2012, records show.
Records and press reports also show Keiper, in 2012, was arrested and charged with issuing more than $5,500 in bad checks to a lumber company. He entered a Pretrial Intervention program (PTI), records show.
The Division of Consumer Affairs has one complaint against the company — from Maleski — which a spokeswoman said “is under review.”
Hoping for the best, we reached out to Keiper and Holland multiple times via telephone and text message. The number we found for Holland had a full voice mail each time we called, and we left messages for Keiper.
Keiper returned a call.
He confirmed Donna Witt Holland is his girlfriend, and said he would call us back after speaking to his attorney. He also said he would tell Holland to contact Bamboozled.
Holland, on Nov 8, sent us an email (signed Donna Witt) requesting the contact information for Bamboozled’s supervisor, which we provided, and she said her voice mail was never full. We emailed questions about the case that same day.
Holland responded via email on Nov, 10 and said was unable to review her records in time for publication. She added: “I can tell you that Mr. Malewski (sic.) is a certifiable nutcase who has bothered no less than 4 excavators that we sent to his jobsite as well other laborers to the point that they refuse to return,” she said in the email.
“He fancies himself an engineer, which he holds no license for,” she wrote. “As a result we have had a significant overrun and because of customers like him, are in the process of meeting with lawyers to discuss if we have any future solvency or lack thereof.”
Keiper didn’t respond to additional requests for comment.
We shared Holland’s comments with Maleski. He said he brought issues with workmanship to Keiper and not the subcontractors because Keiper was the one he hired. He also said he only spoke to one of the subcontractors, who Maleski said stopped coming to the house because a check from the company bounced.
While Maleski waits for action from Consumer Affairs, he hired another contractor to fix the damage and install the driveway.
The cost? Another $11,600, documents show.
Altogether, that’s one expensive home improvement project.