Jim Holt is off the hook for $19,295.
When he asked why, the state said Holt’s former employer — Diocesan Housing Services, an entity of the Catholic Diocese of Camden — was a nonprofit religious organization and therefore exempt from paying into the unemployment system.
Therefore, the state said, Holt was ineligible for benefits and he would have to pay the money back. All of it.
But something wasn’t right. Holt paid into the unemployment system through his paychecks from March 2008 until September 2009. Somewhere in the middle of that time, Diocesan Housing Services switched its status to a nonprofit, but it continued to collect unemployment funds from Holt’s paychecks.
Holt was in the system, so it seemed he should be eligible for unemployment.
Plus, over those 19 months, the state’s computer systems never red-flagged a potential problem — and it even extended his benefits twice.
Holt filed several appeals and offered evidence that he was eligible, but the state said no. The agency’s Appeal Tribunal said he shouldn’t have received benefits and he’d have to pay the money back.
On July 12, Holt received a letter in which he learned that the office of Deputy Commissioner Aaron Fichtner plucked the decision-making from the Board of Review.
“The Deputy having requested that the decision be set aside and the matter remanded to the Deputy for reconsideration due to newly discovered evidence as a result of an investigation. … It is ordered that the decision of the Appeal Tribunal is set aside …”
It sounded to us that Holt might not have to pay the funds back after all. We called the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for clarification.
While we were waiting for the agency to comment, Holt received an apology call from Ronald Marino, assistant commissioner for income security for the agency.
“I was so stunned. He said, ‘Your claim is valid.’ He told me I don’t owe them any money,” Holt said. “He said a lot of things took place that shouldn’t have happened, and he’s putting measures in place to make sure they don’t happen again.”
In fact, Holt says by his own calculations, he may be owed an additional three month of benefits because his payments were prematurely cut short.
We talked to spokesman Brian Murray, who confirmed that Holt will not have to pay back those benefits.
We were thrilled to hear that Holt’s in the clear, but we still had a question: If Holt doesn’t have to repay the money, it means the taxpayers of the state will be out nearly 20-grand.
We asked if the state will hold Diocesan Housing Services responsible and ask it to repay the funds.
The agency had no comment.
We sure hope the agency pursues the employer, which may have overcollected from Holt and other employees, and could very well be responsible for reimbursing the state for the payments made to Holt.
Holt should receive an official letter from the agency in the weeks to come.
“It sounds good to me,” Holt said. “I feel very, very relieved. It’s been a long road.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs has taken action against a chimney company profiled by Bamboozled in 2009.
Back then, Joan Muller of Pompton Plains complained that AAA Reliable of Fair Lawn charged $4,100 for what turned out to be substandard chimney repairs. The company offered Muller a refund.
“At the end of the day I have to make sure the customer is happy, because if the customer isn’t happy, it doesn’t help me,” said owner Lee Lita.
It seems complaints from Lita’s customers didn’t end with Muller.
The state announced an 11-count complaint against the AAA Reliable, and its sister company, Old Reliable Construction, alleging the companies intentionally damaged perfectly healthy chimneys “as a means to coerce consumers into signing expensive rebuilding contracts.”
The complaint said, among other things, that owner Sulejman Lita—identified to Bamboozled as Lee Lita in 2009—told customers that work could not be done for prices advertised by the companies, and that on at least a few occasions, workers actually caused damage to chimneys resulting in repair bills of more than $20,000.
More than 50 consumers filed complaints with the agency.
The state is seeking to revoke AAA Reliable’s home improvement contractor registration, get restitution for consumers and institute civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation. The state is also asking for additional civil penalties of up to $30,000 per violation based upon the company’s direct solicitation to senior citizens.
We called AAA, but the message on company answering machines at two telephone numbers said, “We are presently closed at this present time, and we will be until further notice.”
We left messages anyway.
We hope the state gets what it’s asking for.
THE CHECK’S … WHERE?
It took months to figure out, but Jackie Halsey has satisfied her debt.
The Elizabeth woman had fallen behind on bills, and through a court-ordered paycheck garnishment, was repaying $1,286.55 (including interest and court fees) to Capital One.
She had also made some payments directly to the court before the garnishments started, and that’s where the confusion came in.
When she’d contact the court or Eichenbaum & Stylianou — the law firm hired by Capital One to act as a debt collector — Halsey couldn’t get an accurate statement of her account and how much more she owed.
Based on her records, the debt should have been paid in full, but no one could confirm it. Halsey feared the lack of record keeping would mean the garnishments might continue for too long and she’d overpay the debt.
After we became involved in May, it was determined that the debt had been paid in full and the garnishments would stop.
But, Capital One had to wait for all the funds collected by the court and by Eichenbaum to be credited to Halsey’s account. This was important because Halsey wanted to have proof in writing that the debt was satisfied.
A very reasonable request.
Halsey had been speaking regularly to a Capital One rep since our story ran, and until last week, the bank kept telling her it still hadn’t received all the money that was collected. It was still missing $380.34.
Either the court officer had been slow in sending the funds to Capital One, or Eichenbaum & Stylianou was dragging its feet. Or both.
Halsey — and Bamboozled, for that matter — remained patient.
After waiting for more than two months, we finally reached out to Capital One to see if it could take any steps to move the process along and give Halsey a little peace.
“Her account is now closed and considered paid in full,” a Capital One spokeswoman said. “Please note that she did overpay.”
How about that? She did overpay. After checking with the court, Halsey learned she would receive a refund of $51 that was overcollected.
“I just wanted to put this behind me,” Halsey said. “This is good. I will never do this again.”
A SUCCESS STORY
Here at Bamboozled, we want to help.
We’re grateful and humbled when consumers ask for assistance, but unfortunately, we can’t help everyone who asks. When we can’t take on a case, we try to offer advice so consumers can try to solve their challenges independently.
But it bring us great joy — real, fist-pumping joy — to hear that a problem has been solved without our intervention. We also love to hear when companies do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Like the story of Liz Adams, who placed a mail order with Hanes in February. Adams said she sent in a check to pay for the order and the check was cashed, but the order never arrived.
Adams said her many letters and e-mails to the company yielded nothing.
“Then, rush of brains to the head. I e-mailed their CEO’s office and in the course of requesting the refund, I explained I would hate to get Bamboozled involved in this, but would if necessary,” she said. “And magic happened.”
Within a day, Adams said, she received an e-mail from the CEO’s office, apologizing for the customer service mishaps. Before long, Adams received a refund check. She also received the items she initially ordered at no charge, and Hanes asked her to accept the items as a token of the company’s good will.
“So there you are, another problem solved by you, by remote control!” Adams said in an e-mail.
Thanks to Liz for sharing her story, and thanks to Hanes for doing the right thing.