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Sandy Sting Nets Unlicensed Contractors

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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Undercover investigators in New Jersey have nabbed eight alleged unlicensed contractors who gave bids to perform repairs to a Superstorm Sandy-damaged home during a recent sting operation, authorities said.

Undercover home
Photos: Office of the Attorney General

Investigators used a Superstorm Sandy-damaged house in Highlands, NJ, for the recent sting operation.

Four of the home improvement contractors were charged with the fourth degree crime of engaging in home improvement contracting without being registered, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office announced Monday (July 22). The other four were issued civil notices of violations for not having proper permits.

Schemers on Notice

“We’re putting every schemer and fraudster on notice—do not attempt to enrich yourself by victimizing those who already have suffered from Superstorm Sandy and are attempting to rebuild their lives,” Acting Attorney General Hoffman said in a statement.

“Either operate legally or we will hold you accountable.”

Superstorm Sandy crippled the Atlantic Coast on Oct. 29, 2012. The storm damaged or destroyed at least 650,000 houses, according to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.

Sandy is to blame for more than 100 deaths in the U.S. alone.

Undercover Sting

The Statewide Sandy Fraud Working group within the Attorney General’s office executed the investigation using a storm-damaged house in Highlands, NJ.

Investigators identified home improvement contractors via Internet listings, and after checking each for annual registration with the Division of Consumer Affairs, scheduled individual appointments with suspected unregistered contractors. Investigators posed as the homeowners or their relatives.

Undercover home

In addition to allegedly not having proper registration, the contractors offered "wildly varying assessments" of the damage and cost estimates for repairs, according to authorities.

The contractors offered “wildly varying assessments” of the damage to the home and cost estimates for rebuilding, authorities said.

Contractors Listed, Potential Penalties

According to the Attorney General’s office, the alleged unregistered contractors who were criminally charged are:

  • Rev. Victor McGookin III, 53, Seaside Park, NJ;
  • Michael Kaufmann, 48, Kaufmann Drywall By Design, Philadelphia, PA;
  • Jason Storey, 46, Work-A-Holics LLC, South Orange, NJ; and
  • Anthony DiVito, 61, DiVito & Sons LLC, Fanwood, NJ.

A fourth degree criminal offense in New Jersey can carry a penalty of up to 18 months in jail.

In addition, the Division of Consumer Affairs issued Notices of Violation for unregistered practice of home improvement to the following, the Attorney General’s office said.

  • Darrell Sorger, 43, Toms River, NJ;
  • Robert Mazzeo, 33, Mazzeo Construction, Keyport, NJ;
  • Derrick Scott, 54, Lloyd Home Improvement, Matawan, NJ; and
  • Sebastiao Bonato, 54, Sebastian Restoration and Design (d/b/a/ Step Home Restorations), Long Branch, NJ.

The Notices of Violation carry civil penalties of $2,500.

New Jersey has required home improvement contractors to register since 2006, under the state’s Contractors’ Registration Act. Proof that the contractor has a minimum of $500,000 in commercial general liability insurance coverage is among the law’s requirements.

There are roughly 47,000 registered home improvement contractors in New Jersey.

   

Tagged categories: Contractors; Disasters; Enforcement; Government; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Maintenance + Renovation; Rebuilding; Rehabilitation/Repair; Renovation; Residential contractors

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