Bamboozled: Left high and dry

A fire destroyed the Lodi American Legion Post 136 building on Dec. 14, 2005.

The remains of the structure were leveled by Lodi the following day, and the 72-member veterans group was left with an empty lot.

The group’s rebuilding efforts have been long, and hard, and expensive.

It received a $250,000 insurance payment, but it wasn’t enough to cover the rebuilding costs, which totaled more than $450,000.

“We were underinsured,” said Vince Martorano, the group’s finance officer. “We borrowed $115,000 but we still need more to complete the project.”

But it seems not all the contractors who have taken money from Post 136 have lived up to their promises.

“After six long years, our new building is nearly completed, however one of the most frustrating difficulties we are facing is the completion of our fire sprinkler system,” Martorano said.

Martorano said the group contracted with Ed Kay Jr. of Tarheel Management for that part of the job.

“He keeps making excuses, does not show up when he says he will, and has failed to live up to his contract and complete the job,” Martorano said. “Without a fire sprinkler system we will not be able to get a certificate of occupancy.”

Martorano said the group found Tarheel through an industry posting. Ed Kay Jr., in fact, was the son of the owner of another sprinkler company, K&E Fire Protection of Manalapan. K&E would design the system, and Tarheel would do the installation.

American Legion signed a $24,000 contract for the work on Oct. 30, 2009.

The contract called for the group to hold back 30 percent of the contract price until the job was completed and approved by the local fire inspector, but there was a problem.

Martorano said Kay asked for the final payment early, saying the supplier wouldn’t deliver the materials without cash on delivery.

So American Legion made payments directly to the supplier.

“The last payment for materials was supposed to complete the job,” Martorano said.

The group thought it was close to the finish line, but then there was an extended delay.

“No work was done on the job since about January 2012. He kept giving us excuse after excuse as to why he had not scheduled an inspection,” Martorano said.

Kay said he couldn’t get an appointment with the fire inspector, the group said it was told, which led to more months of delays. But when the American Legion guys got involved, a final inspection was quickly scheduled for June 26.

Martorano said Kay promised to be there.

Ed Kay didn’t show, Martorano said, but the inspector did.

“[The inspector] did not do a complete inspection as the contractor was not there, however a cursory inspection found the job was far from complete as the expansion tank was missing, the cup and valve were missing, the drain cup release was missing, the back flow valve must be tested, the system must be pressured and tested to required specifications, a leak was noted on one of the 4-inch pipes and other minor details,” Martorano said.

Jerry McCrea/The Star-LedgerVincent Martorano, financial officer adjutant; and Howard F. Sowle, post commander ; are seen near the entrance of the American Legion Joseph M. Lane Post 136 in Lodi. The post cannot get a certificate of occupancy until their fire sprinkler system is completed.

Leading up to and after the inspection, Martorano said, the group sent Kay many certified letters and left more than 20 messages.

“When Ed responded to our calls he was always very polite and promised us he would complete the job but he never showed up,” he said.

Calls to K&E Fire Protection also didn’t help. Martorano said Ed Kay Sr. said K&E only made the plans. American Legion would have to talk to Ed Jr. about the actual work.

Not sure what to do next, the group voted to take Kay to court. But first, it contacted Bamboozled for help.

We reviewed the contract and several certified letters sent about the job from the American Legion to Kay. One letter even explained that American Legion’s insurer said that its policy might be cancelled unless the sprinkler system is completed.

Before reaching out to Kay, we did a little more digging.

There are no public documents, state filings or web sites, pertaining to Ed Kay Jr. or Tarheel Management, therefore there were no complaints to be found. Installers of fire sprinkler systems must be licensed by the Division of Fire Safety, but the agency said it has no record of Ed Kay Jr. or Tarheel Management. There were other interesting findings, though.

Ed Kay Jr. is listed on the web site of K&E Fire Protection in Manalapan as a vice president. His dad, Ed Kay Sr., is the president of the firm.

It turns out Kay is something of a stage name for the family business.

Based on company filings with the state, the K&E president’s full name is Edward Klementowicz Sr. There are no consumer complaints against K&E, but there are more than a dozen judgments and liens against the company. And Edward Klementowicz Jr. is listed as K&E’s vice president. That’s Tarheel’s Ed Jr., who has 45 judgments and liens against him personally.

We called both Eds to ask them about the American Legion job.

Neither Ed returned our multiple phone calls or emails.

“That’s par for the course,” Martorano said, noting America Legion will reluctantly take Kay to court if the work isn’t completed.

The lack of a completed job is not only leaving the new building unprotected, it’s costing American Legion additional money.

Since March 11, 2011, the group has been paying a monthly fee to the Passaic Valley Water Commission–more than $2,500 so far–for fire line service even though the fire protection system is not operating and remains unfinished.

“If Ed completes the job it’s probably better for us,” he said. “It’s difficult to get someone else to sign off on Ed’s work. We’ve tried and the contractors are reluctant to do it because they didn’t put it in, and they don’t want to have any problems down the road.”

Come on, Messrs. Kay. Step up and finish what you started, and what you were paid for.

American Legion said it had many good souls who donated time, supplies and labor to its rebuilding efforts, and we wanted to say thank you, too.

Allied Building Products of Rutherford donated all the interior sheet rock needed for the building.

Volunteers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164 in Paramus donated all the labor to install the electrical work in the building and the area lighting in the parking lot.

Volunteers from the United Association of New Jersey, Plumbers Local 24 of West Caldwell donated all the labor to install the plumbing throughout the building.

Also, there were donations from American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, friends of American Legion Post 136, other contractors and civic organizations, which offered money and services, Martorano said.

Good souls, indeed.