Attorney General Cuomo Shuts Down Buffalo Home Builder Who Repeatedly Defrauded Consumers
BUFFALO, N.Y. (April 3, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that a Buffalo area custom home builder that repeatedly defrauded customers has been put out of business and ordered to pay more than $325,000 in penalties and restitution.
A lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office resulted in a State Supreme Court order issued today requiring the owners of Elite Custom Homes, Inc., Steven Wisniewski and April L. Januale, to pay $300,000 in restitution and $6,000 in costs. Wisniewski, additionally, was ordered to pay a $25,000 penalty. Both will be barred from the home improvement business unless they file a $500,000 performance bond.
“Today’s ruling is a fitting result based upon these individuals’ blatant disregard for Buffalo area homeowners,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “These two individuals used the company as a cash machine, bilked homeowners throughout the region and then improperly used the money for personal expenses. Because of this, the dreams of many families to own a custom home instead became nightmares.”
According to court documents, Wisniewski and his girlfriend, Januale, went into business in the fall of 2005 as Elite Custom Homes of WNY. They would primarily take deposits from consumers looking to build a new home or improve an existing home and then not perform the work. The pair instead took the money that they claimed would be used to buy materials (i.e. lumber, doors, brick, etc.) and then spent it as their own disposable income. The money was used for Wisniewski’s personal expenses including the couple’s groceries, movie tickets, fireworks, veterinary bills, vehicle service, car and insurance payments, credit card and cell phone bills and cable service.
Among the instances of fraud detailed in court documents:
- The couple took $158,400 to build a home for a family – and only built a basement, valued at less than $25,000.
- A family submitted an advance payment of $6,800 for a landscaping contract totaling $9,700. Elite Homes did not provide services worth that amount and, in fact, broke four sewer vent pipes, resulting in the family having to pay $11,100 to repair the damage Wisniewski caused and to complete the work he did not do.
- Wisniewski and Januale forwarded $6,500 from a family to buy materials from a supplier, then stopped payment to the company, leading it to threaten to place a lien on the family’s home.
The order was issued today by Erie County Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey of the Buffalo regional office under the supervision of Buffalo Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge Russell Ippolito and Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Frank Hoare.