New York state reviews contractor fraud claims

Hope for Hurricane Sandy victims


There may be hope for residents who were victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and now believe they were victims of contractor fraud this year, as a deadline for the optional elevation assistance program draws near.

Homeowners who paid to have their homes raised to protect them from future flood damage, but saw only some, if any, of the work done, can file applications for “demonstrable hardship” with NY Rising, the agency created to help homeowners rebuild their Sandy-damaged homes. If an application is approved, and it is determined that fraud is involved, the applicant will not be held to the June 1 optional elevation deadline and may be entitled to additional funds from NY Rising to finish the work.

Those homeowners should first bring their complaints to Nassau County’s Office of Consumer Affairs, and then to the district attorney’s office, before going to NY Rising.

The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, which oversees NY Rising, “will not penalize applicants for failure to meet the June 1 deadline where they have pending demonstrable-hardship cases with our office,” GOSR spokeswoman Catie Marshall said. “The goal is to resolve those cases as soon as possible, and where warranted, award additional funding and additional time to complete the projects if needed.”

That is what Ron and Maryann Daly, of Wantagh, have been waiting to hear. Their home on Sycamore Avenue was raised by Turnkey Contractor Solutions in December, but never brought back down to a new foundation — despite $70,000 in payments to Turnkey CEO Cody Lawrence.

“We have all gone through a terrible 5½ years,” Maryann Daly said, referring to Sandy, which struck in October 2012. “It’s even rougher now trying to figure out how to get the funds and find an honest contractor so that we could start getting our home back. The stress for the last years has certainly taken its toll also on our health and emotions.”

Mia and Jerry Vogt, of Massapequa, paid Lawrence a total of $217,594. Their house was raised and brought back down to a new foundation — but it is one foot lower than required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which means they will not receive a Certificate of Occupancy or affordable flood insurance — part of the reason they opted to elevate the house. An independent engineer they hired described the work done on the house as “shoddy.”

“I’m pleased to hear that GOSR will not penalize us for failing to meet the June 1 deadline,” Mia Vogt said. “The looming deadline has created additional anxiety. But people’s lives have been turned upside down and inside out. Help is needed from GOSR . . . We’ve been more that patient, and are praying that we’ll receive positive news soon. We’re ready to turn the page to the next chapter and recover from Hurricane Cody Lawrence. All we want is to repair and finish our home and get back to normal.

“Hurricane Sandy destroyed our home, but Hurricane Cody was an even bigger disaster that destroyed our house and our lives — emotionally and financially,” Vogt added. Records show that the Vogts filed the first complaint against Lawrence, with the Office of Consumer Affairs, in April 2017.

As the Herald previously reported, 33 homeowners in Nassau have alleged that they gave what amounted to millions of dollars in NY Rising elevation assistance funds to Lawrence, who either did not start or finish the jobs, or performed substandard work, necessitating further remediation.

Consumer Affairs records show that in seven of the complaints, homeowners gave Lawrence deposits and the work was never started. Poor workmanship was cited three times, and a majority of the rest of the complaints were for “jobs not completed.”

Consumer Affairs revoked Lawrence’s license on Jan. 31. He closed his Long Island office, and records show that he is currently living in Louisiana. On April 8, he was arrested in Texas on a warrant issued by Louisiana for contractor fraud there.

Robert Connell, of Bellmore, paid Lawrence $100,000, or 50 percent of the cost of elevating his home. Once raised, however, the house was never lowered back down onto a new foundation, so Connell and his family have been unable to return home. He said he hoped the Nassau D.A. and the state attorney general file criminal charges against Lawrence, as Louisiana has.

“As a homeowner whose house was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy, my house is still not fully repaired,” Connell said. “Between the bureaucracy of municipal governments and utilities, and Turnkey not fulfilling contractual agreements and taking money, we’re months away from having our home finished. [Meanwhile], Mr. Lawrence and his legal team are non-responsive.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said that the Office of Consumer Affairs would also try to recoup the money homeowners paid to allegedly unscrupulous contractors. “Regardless of whether there’s a determination of fraud,” Curran said, “Consumer Affairs will continue to pursue action against the contractor to see that monies are returned or that violations are paid.”

Several homeowners who filed complaints against Lawrence said that he did not pay subcontractors who did work on their houses, and they have begun to place liens on the homes for the money owed. These small business owners are also victims of fraud, the homeowners say.

Lawrence’s attorney declined to comment for this story.