NEWARK – (RealEstateRama) — Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs have filed an action against a Florida contractor who set up shop in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy and allegedly defrauded seven homeowners who paid him to repair or replace their storm-damaged homes, including three that collectively lost more than $314,000 in federal relief funds.
Richard R. Woodard, of Clearwater, Florida, and his company, Willwood Builders Corporation (“Willwood Builders”), took initial payments from consumers for home improvements or new construction and then failed to begin work, performed work in a substandard manner, and/or abandoned unfinished projects without returning for weeks, months, or at all, according to a Complaint filed by the State in Ocean County Superior Court.
Woodard, whose Willwood Builders is based in Florida, established a business in New Jersey five weeks after Superstorm Sandy pummeled the state, leaving thousands of residents homeless.
“We have alleged that this out-of-state contractor preyed on New Jersey homeowners who trusted that he would help them rebuild or repair their homes in the wake of this devastating storm,” said Attorney General Porrino. “He added to their suffering by allegedly taking their money and leaving them with little or nothing to show for it.”
The three homeowners named in the Complaint – two from Ocean and one from Middlesex counties – were recipients of federal grants from the Department of Community Affairs’ Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program, the state’s largest rebuilding initiative in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The trio also used some of their own money to pay for the contracting work. Four other homeowners – three from Ocean and one from Monmouth counties – also paid the defendants with their own money for Sandy repairs.
This is the fourth Complaint the Division of Consumer Affairs has filed against contractors who allegedly defrauded Sandy victims out of RREM funds.
“We will not allow predatory contractors to financially exploit consumers recovering from a time of emergency,” said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Division will continue to file actions against Sandy fraudsters as long as there are victims waiting for justice.”
“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.”
On its website, Willwood Builders advised storm victims to be selective when choosing a contractor to rebuild their homes.
“While many times it may be enticing to accept the first offer, it’s important to research your contractor to ensure they can deliver what they promise,” the website stated. “Whether you need to fix a collapsed roof and damaged walls, or require a complete rebuild, Willwood builders can help.”
But some homeowners who hired the defendants received little or no help in repairing or replacing their storm-damaged homes, according to the State’s Complaint.
The complaint alleges that Woodard and Willwood Builders violated the Consumer Fraud Act, the Contractors’ Registration Act, the Home Improvement Regulations, and the Advertising Regulations, by actions that include:
- Failing to begin and/or complete the construction services as specified in the Willwood Builders contract.
- Accepting consumer payments, which included RREM funds, and commenced construction services, only to abandon the project and not return to the consumers’ homes for weeks, months, or at all.
- Failing to pay subcontractors, laborers, or materialmen, causing construction liens to be placed on consumers’ properties.
- Falsely representing that on the Willwood Builders website that the defendants would work with architects to complete plans according to the agreed-upon specifications, when such was not the case.
- Misleading consumers into believing that the down payment or any advanced payments constituted the full amount the consumer would be obligated to pay.
- Failing to obtain the necessary building and construction permits.
- Performing defective construction or installation of roofs, windows, and/or doors that were either incomplete or leaked rain, and then failed to repair those defects.
The Complaint seeks consumer restitution, the disgorgement of unlawfully acquired or retained RREM funds to the Department of Community Affairs, reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs, and civil penalties. The state also seeks to cancel Willwood Builders’ Certificate of Incorporation in the State, permanently revoke its Home Improvement Contractor and New Home Builders registrations in the state, and permanently enjoin the defendants from owning, operating, or otherwise managing any construction service business in the state, and from advertising and or performing construction services within the State.
Investigators Joseph Iasso and Brittany Kieran of the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Jesse J. Sierant, of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law, is representing the State in this action.
Anthony Sodono, III, Esq. of Trenk, DiPasquale, Della Fera & Sodono, P.C. is representing the defendants in this action.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846(toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
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