Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Thursday filed a lawsuit against a Chicago-based home repair company, accusing it of swindling five Chicago-area residents out of more than $58,000, including a senior suffering from Alzheimer’s and the pastor of a Maywood church.
"It is people who are in most need who tend to be the victims of the worst scams, and it’s atrocious,” Madigan told NBC Chicago.
Madigan’s lawsuit alleges Rafael Martinez, who runs Chicago-based Abiel Construction Company, Inc., solicited home repair services door-to-door and took homeowners’ down payments but then either didn’t do the work or performed the work in a shoddy manner.
One of the most egregious complaints against Martinez came from Shirley Williams, a Chicago homeowner, who says the contractor repeatedly approached her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, for money -- and got it -- when she refused.
"I don’t know how he sleeps at night. But I can say I’ve had some sleepless nights," Williams said.
Her daughter, Hattie Williams, had an exact number paid out: $20,932.00.
"And he didn’t do anything," she said.
The Williams’ say Martinez damaged their home, cracking a gas line while fixing a kitchen water pipe. The company denied that, but the gas company inspected the line and confirmed a serious gas leak.
After making approximately $20,000 in upfront payments to Martinez, the family later paid an additional $5,000 to a different contractor to complete the repairs on the home.
The lawsuit also cited a complaint from the St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Maywood. Pastor James Myvett hired Martinez to renovate the church’s exterior and repair its roof. The pastor says Martinez sucked him in with some well -rehearsed words. “He told me that the Lord had sent him to be a blessing to the church.”
Martinez then demanded a $3,000 down payment for the repair work but failed to complete the project, forcing the church to hire a new contractor to fix the damage. Myvett said it cost the church an additional $7,430 to complete the project.
"I was praying, 'Lord, we don’t have a lot of money. Our heart is bigger than our wallet,'" said the pastor.
Madigan’s office is seeking both fines and restitution for affected consumers and is asking the court to permanently ban Martinez from working in the home repair business in Illinois.
"He seemed so sincere, you know. He showed empathy. But it was all just lies," said Williams.
"I said, 'You told me you were sent by God, but I think you were sent by the devil.'"
Attempts to reach Martinez for comment were unsuccessful.
Tips for Working With Contractors
The attorney general's office offered the following tips to help protect families and businesses from being targeted by dishonest contractors:
- Be wary of contractors who go door to door to offer repair services. Ask for recommendations from people you know and trust and, whenever possible, use established local contractors.
- Insurance adjusters must be licensed by the Illinois Department of Insurance, and roofers must be licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Ask to see required state or local permits or licenses.
- Call the Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud Hotline (1-800-386-5438 for Chicago area residents) to determine if consumer complaints have been filed against a particular business.
- Even if there is a need to act quickly, shop around for the best deal. Get written estimates from multiple contractors, and don’t be rushed into a deal.
- Get all the terms of a contract in writing, and obtain a copy of the signed contract.
- Never make full payment until all the work has been completed to your satisfaction, and never pay in cash.
Madigan also reminded consumers that the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act requires contractors to furnish customers with written contracts for any repair or remodeling work costing more than $1,000.
A contract must be signed by both the customer and the contractor. The law also requires contractors to carry at least minimum amounts of insurance for property damage, bodily injury and improper home repair.
Contractors also must provide consumers with an informational pamphlet entitled "Home Repair: Know Your Consumer Rights."