Manahawkin home repair firm charged in million-dollar Sandy fraud probe
A Manahawkin home repair firm and its two principals face charges by the New Jersey Attorney General's office, accused of amassing more than $1,100,000 for Superstorm-related repairs and house elevations never completed - and in some cases, never begun.
The Price Home Group Limited Liability Company, and owners Jonathan Price of Manahawkin and Scott Cowan of Demarest, allegedly collected $898,331.11 through federal relief grants and $220,483.26 out-of-pocket from nine home owners involved in the complaint, according to the office of acting state Attorney General Christopher Porrino.
The victims were recipients of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grants through the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
Prosecutors say that Price and Cowan filed for bankruptcy protection, but DCA filed adversary actions against both to ensure payment of civil penalties, restitution and attorney fees.
The state seeks customer restitution from Price Home Group, along with payment of grant money to DCA, civil penalties and attorney fee reimbursements, along with revocation of its contractor registration and a permanent ban on owning or operating a home-improvement business in New Jersey for the partners.
"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," Porrino said in prepared remarks.
Authorities allege that Price Home Group solicited business through its web site after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, labeling its operation a "one-stop solution" for home elevations or repalcements with modular houses.
In arrangements completed between September 2014 and June 2015, the company allegedly performed slipshod repairs, failed to start some projects, and left others undone for weeks, for months, or for good, investigators said.
The complaint alleges one home-raising project abandoned while the house was still on temporary supports; one raised to a half-foot below the required height with inferior footings, neither of which was corrected; a house demolished for replacement with a modular home that was never built; repeatedly-stalled start dates; and a home owner deceived about permits that were not obtained.
The firm is accused of violating the Consumer Fraud Act, the Contractors' Registration Act, and regulations for home elevations and advertising. Prosecutors also contend that critical information was left out of contracts, including conditions affecting prices, and principal products and materials for the projects.
Consumers who suspect that they've been scammed or abused can file an online complaint with DCA, or can call the department, 800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200.
Charges are accusations. Defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.