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February 11, 2010

MADIGAN FILES LAWSUITS AGAINST THREE STORM CHASERS

Attorney General Cautions Consumers to Be Alert for Scams in Wake of Storms

Chicago — Attorney General Lisa Madigan today put Illinois storm chasers on notice, filing three lawsuits against home repair con artists who exploit natural disasters for personal profit. The Attorney General’s complaints allege that the defendants collectively defrauded Illinois consumers of more than $243,000 in down payments by performing substandard work or failing to complete renovations.

“In the days and weeks after severe storms, these con artists flood into our local communities and take advantage of stressed consumers, often pressuring them to make snap decisions about repairing the damage,” Madigan said. “We’re taking action today to send the message that these practices are not welcome in Illinois. I urge homeowners who are confronting significant damage to their homes after a storm to be wary of door-to-door solicitations and instead use established, well-recommended contractors to perform the renovation.”

Madigan filed two lawsuits in Cook County against the following defendants:

  • Fidelity Reconstruction, LLC, based in Schaumburg, Ill., and Shel St. Clare, Richard Rinaolo and Robert Picchietti;
  • WeatherStorm, Inc., a dissolved Indianapolis firm with offices in Illinois, and Kerry Holland, Tim Bednarek, Robert Kennedy and Thomas Schwartz;

Madigan also filed a lawsuit in Williamson County against Bertram Leo Snyder, a Kentucky resident who operates Quality Roofing and Siding and A-1 Construction in Carterville, Ill. Snyder allegedly coerced consumers to pay upfront without providing any cost estimates for the projected work.

The complaints allege that the defendants visit communities affected by severe storms, going door to door to solicit consumers for home repair and remodeling services. The defendants allegedly promise homeowners that they will meet with insurance adjusters to ensure storm damage will be covered by an insurance claim and obtain an insurance check from the homeowner. The defendants then allegedly promise to start work once they receive the insurance check. Madigan’s lawsuits allege that the defendants violated the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and the Home Repair and Remodeling Act by accepting the insurance payments from consumers but then performing substandard or incomplete work or, in some cases, failing to perform any work at all. Collectively, the Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud Bureau has received at least 41 complaints against these defendants.

In each suit, the Attorney General is asking the court to permanently enjoin the defendants from engaging in the home repair trade in Illinois. Madigan is also asking the court to order the defendants to pay restitution to consumers, a civil penalty of $50,000 per defendant, additional penalties of $50,000 for each act committed with intent to defraud and an additional $10,000 for each act committed against a senior citizen, and the costs of the investigation and litigation of the cases.

Madigan warned consumers and business owners to be careful before contracting to have damaged or destroyed property rebuilt and not to rush to sign contracts or make large down payments. The Attorney General urged consumers to alert both her office and local law enforcement if suspicious “storm chasers” begin soliciting in their communities.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division offered the following tips to help protect individuals and companies from being duped by dishonest contractors:

  • Be wary of door-to-door solicitors because many home repair con artists are transients who move quickly into a troubled area. Ask for recommendations from people you know and trust. Whenever possible, use established local contractors.

  • Call Attorney General Madigan’s Consumer Fraud Hotline to check out a business and to find out how many consumer complaints, if any, have been filed against a particular business.

  • Ask to see required state or local permits or licenses.

  • Shop around for the best deal. Get written estimates from several contractors and don’t allow a salesperson to rush you into a deal.

  • Get all terms of a contract in writing; obtain a copy of the signed contract and never make full payment until all work has been completed to your satisfaction.

  • Be aware that you have the right to cancel within three business days if you sign a contract based on a salesman’s visit to your home.

  • Do not pay in cash.

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