An Ocean County home improvement contractor and two of its owners took more than $1.1 million from Hurricane Sandy victims and failed to begin or complete work, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs alleges.
Price Home Group Limited Liability Company of Manahawkin and its owners, Jonathan Price of Manahawkin and Scott Cowan of Demarest, took “significant” down-payments to elevate or replace storm damaged houses but failed to start working, performed work in a substandard fashion, and/or abandoned unfinished work “without returning for weeks, months, or at all,” according to the state’s complaint.
More than $898,000 taken from Sandy homeowners was from federal relief grants, the state said. The nine homeowners named in the complaint were all recipients of state Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grants, New Jersey’s largest rebuilding initiative, and paid $220,483.28 out of pocket.
“Residents who trusted Jonathan Price and Scott Cowan to help them rebuild after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy were allegedly victimized again when these contractors took their money without delivering the work the residents paid for,” said Acting Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino. “What makes this kind of greed even more repugnant is that these men allegedly preyed on people relying on financial assistance from the state to rebuild or restore their homes.”
The complaint seeks consumer restitution, the return of RREM funds to the state, reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs, and civil penalties. The state also seeks to permanently revoke the home improvement contractor registration of Price Home Group and prohibit Price and Cowan from owning or operating a home improvement business in the state.
Although Price and Cowan have filed for federal bankruptcy protection, the state has filed an action against both in an attempt to ensure that the remedies sought in the complaint will not be discharged, the state said.
“Dishonest contractors not only hinder Sandy-impacted families from rebuilding their homes, they also impede the state’s overall recovery effort,” said Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Charles A. Richman. “We thank the Division of Consumer Affairs for diligently investigating Sandy contractor fraud claims and taking legal action against contractors when warranted. This important work shows the state is rooting out deceptive contractors and helping Sandy survivors get their rebuilding projects back on track.”
The public can report consumer abuse by filing an online complaint or calling 1-800-242-5846.