Spitzer Stops Home Improvement Scams

Attorney General Spitzer today announced he has won refunds for elderly victims of several Rochester home improvement contracting companies accused of exploiting senior citizens.

In a recent settlement, Mark J. Pelow and his brother, Nathan Pelow, and Daniel Ricotta and his brother, Richard Ricotta have agreed to return $57,000 to consumers who were defrauded by their contracting companies.

Today's action was taken after the Attorney General's Office received more than 20 complaints alleging that the Pelows and the Ricottas engaged in misrepresentation, fraud, and false advertising. In particular, the consumers claimed that they failed to remedy defective work; failed to provide services contracted and paid for; refused to honor warranties and to give refunds; and demanded payment for unauthorized work.

The Pelows and the Ricottas, through their various contracting companies, would solicit their services door-to-door or through flyers and contracted for minor, inexpensive home improvement work. While allegedly performing the repair or service, the contractors persistently would misrepresent to consumers that additional, usually more expensive repair work was needed. Oftentimes, however, it was determined that the initial or additional work was never performed, or if performed, was never completed or was badly defective.

"These con artists targeted and exploited trusting and vulnerable elderly consumers to perpetrate their scams," Spitzer said. "Such cases make it more difficult for legitimate contractors to develop a confident and effective relationship with their customers."

In addition to forcing the contractors to give refunds to the elderly victims and to pay $6,000 in penalties for the violations, Spitzer obtained another $10,000 under a new State law which provides for increased penalties for deceptive and fraudulent acts perpetrated against the elderly with willful disregard of their rights. This money will be used by the Attorney General's Office to fund future investigations and prosecutions of crimes against the elderly.

This settlement also requires the Pelows and the Ricottas to post a $50,000 performance bond with the Attorney General's Office before operating as a home improvement contractor in the future and prohibits them from engaging in any similar deceptive and fraudulent acts.

Over the past seven years, the Pelows and the Ricottas have owned and operated a number of home contracting firms together, including Capital Builders of Western New York, Inc., Home Tech Of Rochester, VAL-U Exteriors and Allen Roofing, Chimney and Gutter, Inc., and other companies doing business under variations of those names, often without legal authority.

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Carlos Rodriguez of the Rochester Regional Office of the Department of Law.

Consumers who want to file a complaint about this home improvement scam or who have questions or concerns about home repairs are encouraged to call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (800) 771-7755 or visit his web site at www.ag.ny.gov.

Examples of consumer complaints against the defendants:

  • a 92 year-old woman who lives alone and suffers from angina, high blood pressure, hearing impairment and congestive heart disease was convinced to enter into four different contracts with the Pelows over a three month period for a total of over $1,700. Much of the work in each contract, however, was duplicative and an inspector from the Better Business Contractors Bureau determined that much of the work was shoddy or was not performed at all. The inspector determined that "the value of the work would not exceed $250, if done well."
  • Pelow showed up at the home of an 81 year old widow with a pail full of soot and stated that her chimney was in need of repair. The elderly woman gave him a check for $2,600 for the repair and two days later he requested an additional $1,625. The elderly woman's niece discovered this and reminded the elderly woman that her roof was only six years old and that it recently had passed an annual inspection. The niece contacted the Monroe County Sheriff who sent a deputy to the home and ordered Pelow to stop the work and leave the premises. He left, but returned later and demanded payment of the $1,625. Pelow immediately took the elderly woman's check to the bank and converted it into a bank check to avoid a stop payment.
  • An 88-year-old woman signed several home improvement contracts with Pelow and Home Tech, totaling over $17,000 for extensive roofing, gutter and chimney work. When she experienced continued problems after the work was performed, she hired a consultant who informed her the work was worthless. The consultant reported that she was overcharged for each item, that unnecessary and shoddy work was performed, and that in many instances, they failed to perform any of the work specified and paid for in the contracts.
  • An elderly man contracted with Val-U Roofing to have his roof re-shingled for $2,800. They convinced this man to sign a second contract to have both sides of his roof re-shingled and re-decked. The total of both contracts amounted to $8,900, but the work was left incomplete and substandard, causing water to leak into the basement of the elderly man's home.