TROUBLESHOOTERS: Couple Scammed By Contractor
POSTED: Friday, May 8, 2009 - 7:18am
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:23pm
Earlier this year, Matt and Angelica Ellis were looking to get their kitchen remodeled. After searching the newspaper classifieds, they called three different contractors for personal interviews.
"The third person came over had great ideas, had a wonderful design for my kitchen, we got along great and he gave me a good price," Angelica says.
Happy with what he had to offer, Angelica and her husband decided Joe Hernandez, owner of Youngstone II, might be the right person for the job. But before moving forward, they did their homework.
"Better Business Bureau, we did it. We did look into it. There's nothing registered what so ever," Matt says.
They checked the contractor's references which included a local real estate agent.
Angelica says,"she told me he was on time, he had done a great job and basically, I
believed her, so that's one of the reasons I gave him the job."
The Ellis' called Hernandez over to finalize a contract. He said he could remodel the couple's kitchen for a total price of $7,750. He showed them sketches and even brought by samples to choose from. After a couple of meetings, the Ellis' signed a contract and paid him half of the total up front. Almost immediately, they say, the trouble started.
"I've tried calling him, I've tried to text message him, tried e-mailing him. He always is giving me the runaround," Angelica says.
She tried to find him at his business address. But says, "his sign is there, but once I went over there, his office isn't there. I talked to the real estate lady there and she told me he left without paying the rent, so he doesn't have an office anymore."
We tried too. His sign is still on the marquee.
The leasing office tells us Hernandez signed a lease last year, but took off a few months later before even opening up shop.
After several failed attempts to find him, the couple looked up the New Mexico license number listed on Hernandez' letterhead and found no record of it belonging to him.
We decided to check for ourselves on the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department website and the search turned up nothing. After a few calls, the department told us the number did not exist in their system and there was no record of this particular Joe Hernandez being a licensed contractor in the state of New Mexico.
We also found no license for him in Texas, but although under Mew Mexico regulations, contracting without a license is against the law, in texas it's a different story. Builders and remodelers are only required to register with the commission if they build new homes or work on an interior remodeling job that either costs more than $10,000 or changes the square footage of the home. That means in this case, Hernandez did not need a license. We checked with the El Paso County Attorney's office and the Texas Attorney General's office and both tell us they have no complaints for Hernandez or his business, Youngstone II.
When we checked with the Better Business Bureau, we found no complaints for Joe Hernandez or Youngstone II, but when we searched under the phone number we have listed for him, we found another business that builds patios and decks under the name of Joseph Hernandez.
According to the website, that business has an F rating. We stopped by the address listed, but no one was home.
We also called the phone number that matched Youngstone Ii's, but it is disconnected. Our search did not end there. Over the past couple of weeks, we have left several messages on Hernandez' cell phone, sent him text messages and e-mailed him, but much like the Ellis' we have received no response.
The worst part of it is, Matt says, "is a guy comes into your house, sits down at your table, looks you in the eye, gives you his word as a man and then leaves, just steals your money."
And although, they thought they were doing everything by the book, Matt says next time, he will do more to avoid being scammed.
"Don't just rely on the Better Business Bureau. That was my mistake. Demand insurance and bonding because that's a means to get your money back if they default through their bonding agency. Check their license number obviously. There's websites that'll help you out, " he says.
Although license and bonding are not required for all contractors under Texas law, the Texas Attorney General's office says if a contractor is insured and bonded, it is usually a good sign that they run a reputable business.
As for Angelica and Matt, they still want their money back.
Late Wednesday, Hernandez responded to an e-mail sent by Newschannel 9 that read, "on the Ellis kitchen, the coating or finish application did not come out to specifications. I tried several times to fix the coating, as I had informed them, I was not going to install something that would not pass. I informed them that I would give them a full refund."
Newschannel 9 has also uncovered a warrant out for Hernandez' arrest for deceptive business practice..
He is accused of using different first names and different company names.
BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU
CITY OF EL PASO CONTRACTOR REGISTRATION
CITY OF EL PASO CONTRACTOR PERMITS
EL PASO COUNTY ATTORNEY
TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL
El Paso Regional Office
TEXAS RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION COMMISSION
NEW MEXICO REGULATION & LICENSING DEPARTMENT
NEW MEXICO ATTORNEY GENERAL