Bamboozled May 9, 2016: State sues man charged in E-ZPass scam

Erich Niemann, the contractor arrested last week in an E-ZPass scam, is now being sued by the Division of Consumer Affairs, Bamboozled has learned.

In a six-count complaint filed in Monmouth County Superior Court, the state alleges that Niemann, of Tinton Falls, and two of his companies — Restore the Shore Contracting and Niemann General Contractor Builder — worked as an unregistered contractor, performed shoddy work, left home improvement jobs unfinished and committed other consumer protection violations.

Niemann.jpgA mug shot of Erich Niemann. He was charged with theft by deception and receiving stolen property in an E-ZPass scam, and now he’s being sued by the Division of Consumer Affairs.

The state said Niemann “deceived, misled, and/or defrauded 17 consumers across New Jersey by, among other things, taking money for jobs that were poorly done or not completed” from September 2010 to March 2016.

“We will not tolerate unscrupulous contractors who flout our laws by pocketing consumers’ hard-earned money and leaving them little to show for it but a mess,” Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy said in a press release.

The state is looking for restitution for consumers, reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs, and civil penalties for each statutory and regulatory violation allegedly committed by Niemann and his companies.

It also wants to permanently ban Niemann from owning or operating a home improvement business in New Jersey.

“Dishonest contractors will learn the hard way that cheating customers is no way to do business in New Jersey,” said Steve Lee, Consumer Affairs’ acting director.

Read the full complaint here.

Phone messages left for Niemann were not returned.

Niemann’s attorney, New Brunswick-based Matthew Rasmussen, who according to his web site specializes in estate planning law, said he had no comment.

In a separate case last week, Niemann was charged with one count of third degree theft by deception and one count of receiving stolen property related to aBamboozled investigation in which a Delaware man whose license plate was stolen received more than 140 violation notices from E-ZPass in New Jersey.

Even though the man responded to the violation notices with proof that his license plate was stolen, E-ZPass continued to send him violations for nearly a year.

That violations were cleared up last week with the arrest of Niemann by state police, which found the stolen plate affixed to one of Niemann’s vehicles, authorities said.

Authorities said in all, Niemann’s vehicles racked up nearly $50,000 in toll charges and fees.

The stolen plate traveled through tolls 151 times for $216 in unpaid tolls. With fees, that bill is $5,666, authorities said. Niemann’s other vehicles crossed $1,674 worth of tolls after 829 trips. With fees, that total came to $42,699, authorities said.

THE HISTORY

The civil lawsuit and criminal charges aren’t the only legal woes faced by Niemann.

There have been 18  lawsuits against Niemann and/or his companies in recent years, public records show. Eight have resulted in judgments.

boozle-BadDeck-8595.JPGBridgit Mazza on her unfinished deck in August 2015. She said Erich Niemann abandoned the job.

Bamboozled readers first met Niemann in August 2015 when reader Bridgit Mazza said Restore the Shore skipped out on finishing a $25,000 deck job.

The Middletown family eventually paid a second contractor to complete the work after Niemann and his reps stopped coming, Mazza said.

“It wasn’t even just finishing the job. There were some safety issues and bad workmanship that had to be taken down and done from scratch,” said Mazza, who is part of the Consumer Affairs action. “There were other things we had to live with otherwise we would have had to knock down the whole thing.”

Of the lawsuit, Mazza said she’s cautiously optimistic.

She said doesn’t expect to get all of her money back, but she said “just having there be some sort of public censure on him makes us feel a lot better.”

Bhavin Shah contacted Bamboozled after reading Mazza’s story.

Shah signed a $30,000 contract with Niemann to finish a basement in October 2013. The job was supposed to be completed by Christmas.

It wasn’t.

Shah said he paid $25,000 to Niemann, and of the five phases of the project, workers got through just some of the third phase by January. Then work stopped, Shah said, and his many phone calls and emails were never returned.

Then, Shah said, one day Niemann’s project manager just showed up.

“He said he wanted to finish some things but I never let him in the door,” Shah said. “Work had to be redone. It was a complete mess.”

Shah paid $15,000 for another contractor to finish the job, he said.

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Then in April 2015, Shah started receiving debt collection calls on money he supposedly owed to Niemann’s company.

The calls were followed by a collections letter in June.

Shah responded in writing, asking for proof that he owed the money. The debt collector never responded, he said.

Shah never complained to Consumer Affairs, but he said he will now.

“That guy was a crook to begin with. It doesn’t surprise me,” Shah said when he heard of the Consumer Affairs action. “He says a lot of technical things that attract customers but he’s essentially running a scam.”

In its complaint, the state said Niemann advertised under many business names, including  Niemann Contracting, NJ Custom Finished Decks, NJ Custom Finished Basements, NJ Finished Basements, NJ Finished Basements & Decks, Basementsremodel.com, NJpatiopavers.com, and Custompatiodecks.com — none of which were properly registered with the state.

Anyone who has a complaint for Consumer Affairs can call (973) 504-6200 or (800) 242-5846  (toll free in New Jersey) or visit the agency’s website.

We’ll keep you posted on the status of the suit.

Staff researcher Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.