Their daughter was graduating from law school, and to celebrate, the family planned a shindig at their home.
To prepare, the couple decided to build a new backyard patio.
They signed an $8,500 contract with Atlantic Irrigation of Manville and Scott Minegar on March 23 for the job.
“It was made clear at the time that this was a time sensitive project as it was to be completed for a graduation party,” Robert Garibotto, 58, said in an email.
When the contract was signed, they gave Minegar a $4,000 cash deposit, “which he stated would be used for the purchase of materials and to secure my place in line among his other customers,” Garibotto said.
Minegar said there were two projects he was working on, but the patio would be next.
The contract said the project was to be completed by April 13, 2012.
“One of his current projects was located in my neighborhood and I often passed it on my daily walks,” Garibotto said in an email. “I began to notice construction at this site was beginning to slack… even as I was assured by Mr. Minegar that my job would be next… and there was absolutely no problem with the job being successfully completed on time.”
“Calls were either left unreturned or promises of meetings were never realized,” Garibotto said.
By the time the completion date passed, Garibotto said, no materials had been delivered and no work had been started.
“I notified Mr. Minegar of my intention to cancel the contract on April 21, 2012,” Garibotto said, and the notification was both verbal and in writing. “At first, Mr. Minegar resisted my efforts to terminate the contract… stating that I would be in breach of the contract if I were to cancel it.”
Then, Garibotto said he’d hire an attorney, so Minegar shot back.
“He told me that he had the `best attorney’ — whom he referred to as his `best friend’ — who knew all the tricks and would run me around in circles to keep me from getting my money back,” Garibotto said.
Soon after, Garibotto said, Minegar called him back to say he looked at the contract again and saw that a completion date had been included.
“He then acknowledged that he was in breach of the contract and agreed to its termination,” Garibotto said. “We further agreed that he would return the $4,000 deposit to me.”
But that was only the beginning.
Garibotto said Minegar failed to appear at several scheduled meetings.
On May 30, Garibotto said, he spoke to Minegar’s wife.
“She told me to contact her husband’s attorney, Darren Leotti, who she claimed was in possession of the $4,000 sum,” Garibotto said.
THE QUESTIONABLE ATTORNEY
Garibotto left a message for the attorney, who was employed by Mauro, Savo, Camerino, Grant & Schalk in Somerville.
Loetti returned the call.
Garibotto said he “represented to me that he had the $4,000 `in trust’ and that he would return the funds to me as soon as I executed a release stating that, in exchange for the $4,000, I would not institute any legal action against Mr. Minegar or his company.”
Garibotto said he received the release and an accompanying letter on June 1.
“In the letter, Mr. Leotti stated that he was representing Mr. Minegar and Atlantic Irrigation; that Mr. Minegar had obtained a bank check, payable to me, in the sum of $4,000; and that once I returned the signed Release to him, the bank check would be forwarded to me,” he said.
Garibotto said he confirmed this over the phone with Leotti, and then he signed and returned the release.
A month passed with no word and no check.
After several failed contact attempts, Garibotto’s attorney spoke to Leotti, who said he’d had a falling out with Minegar and was no longer representing him.
Garibotto said he contacted Minegar on July 7, but Minegar denied any knowledge of a falling out.
“He stated that he and Mr. Leotti were `best friends’ and that this was ‘news to him,’” Garibotto said. “He further stated… he did not know why Mr. Leotti had not yet sent me the money.”
After they hung up, Minegar called again, saying that Leotti wouldn’t be involved anymore, and that Minegar would return the money on July 9. But Minegar never called to arrange the meeting, Garibotto said.
Garibotto said he also tried to contact Leotti’s law firm, but he learned the man was dismissed because of “unspecified misconduct,” and on July 10, an article on NJ.com, the online home of The Star-Ledger, reported Leotti lost his job, and his law license was suspended after he was accused of appropriating more than $30,000 of client funds.
Bamboozled confirmed that the Office of Attorney Ethics suspended Leotti’s law license on April 16, and it remains so pending the resolution of several charges against him.
Leotti’s former law firm denied having any knowledge of Leotti’s representation of Minegar, Garibotto said.
“They merely stated… our remedy would solely be against Atlantic Irrigation,” Garibotto said.
Calls by Bamboozled to Leotti were not returned.
Feeling they had no other choice, the couple went to Superior Court in Somerset and on May 8, they were awarded a default judgment in the amount of $4,000 against Minegar and Atlantic Irrigation.
“Obviously, we would like the full return of our money, but it is also important to expose these people for what they are and hopefully save someone else from a similar fate,” Garibotto said.
THE CONTRACTOR’S SIDE
Consumer Affairs has no complaints against the company.
Court documents show five judgments against Atlantic worth more than $11,000, and 20 against Scott Minegar personally, worth more than $40,000. And that doesn’t count the Garibotto suit. Additionally, in 1992, Minegar served more than 10 months after pleading guilty to multiple counts of burglary, theft, conspiracy and other charges.
We called Minegar on Aug. 5 to discuss his side of the story.
“The thing was they cancelled the job, which we agreed to let them cancel, even though I could exercise my rights under breach,” he said. “At that time we had done nothing on the job but we were past three days,” he said, referring to the three-day right of rescission customers have to cancel a contract.
We asked why, if he had agreed to return the money, he hadn’t yet. We also asked how the couple was in breach for cancelling a contract given that no work had started and the completion date had already passed.
Minegar hung up.
Knowing there are two sides to every story, we called Minegar back.
After telling us to “tread lightly because I’m not going to take any nonsense,” Minegar said the couple had won their judgment, so they can “take their rights under the judgment.”
Minegar confirmed he was initially represented by Leotti, who said things were “in check.”
“I’m not the monster,” he said. “You have to keep in mind I didn’t have to offer to return any money.”
But you did make the offer, we said.
We asked Minegar if he intended to pay the couple.
“What I’m trying to say is we’re playing nice and all of a sudden they’re calling lawyers and now I have to call lawyers,” he said. “The work I did for Mr. Garibotto, four times coming to his house, drawing up plans, all of that is part of the job. I should have been paid for my time.”
Minegar hung up a second time.
We left a message, offering for him or his attorney to contact Bamboozled to give the rest of the story. Minegar and his attorney never called, and the Garibottos still haven’t received their money.
They say they’re reluctant to hire someone else to do the job for fear of losing more money.
“Not only are we very disappointed that we did not get our patio and lost a substantial amount of money, we are also disheartened to have had to learn first-hand what it is like to deal with very dishonorable people,” Ruth Garibotto said. “It is a shame that other contractors who are likely competent and trustworthy will suffer because of the actions of people like this.”