A contractor from Smithtown who allegedly scammed Hurricane Sandy victims in Nassau and Suffolk counties out of hundreds of thousands of dollars turned himself into the Nassau County district attorney’s office and appeared before a judge to face grand larceny and fraud charges on Tuesday.
In 2015 and 2016, Lee Moser, 49, was the owner of Capstone Realty Holdings Inc., and did business under Capstone Remodeling, based in Smithtown, according to his Uniform Commercial Code filings with the State Department of State.
He was arraigned before Judge Paul Meli on Tuesday, and charged with five counts of third-degree grand larceny, first-degree scheme to defraud and two counts of operating a home improvement business without a license, according to District Attorney Madeline Singas’s office.
Bail was set at $5,000 bond or $2,000 cash, and Moser is due back in court Jan. 23. If convicted of the top count, he faces 2-1/3 years to seven years in prison.
“The defendant allegedly victimized these homeowners after they experienced one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory,” Singas said in a release. “Anyone who feels like they have been targeted by an unscrupulous contractor is urged to contact my office or the Office of Consumer Affairs and report the incident.”
Singas said that from April 2015 to August 2016, Moser signed contracts with five Nassau County homeowners to perform work on their homes that had been severely damaged during Sandy. In most of the cases, the alleged victims wrote the defendant down-payment checks, with New York Rising funds, made payable to Capstone Remodeling. Instead of performing the work as promised, Moser allegedly made excuses as to why the work had not started, including that he was in the hospital or caring for his sick mother, Singas said. In total, the defendant is accused of stealing $113,485. Moser allegedly spent the money on expenditures to continue running his business, she added.
The Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs sent complaints from the five victims to the NCDA between June 2016 and April 2017, and an investigation by the district attorney’s office began immediately. To date, the defendant, who is currently unlicensed, has not repaid any of the homeowners. They were all, however, reissued New York Rising funds, the release said.
The Herald was first to report on Moser six months ago, when he was the subject of a story published in the June 15-21 issue, “Hurricane horrors: Sandy victims say they paid tens of thousands for work that contractors never did.”
Dozens of residents in Nassau and Suffolk counties have accused Moser of taking money from them to repair their Sandy-damaged homes, and homeowners say he either never started the work or left their houses unfinished.
Suffolk police arrested Moser on Oct. 13 in Riverhead, and charged him with two counts of third-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheme to defraud. He was released on $1,000 bail. Moser appeared before Judge Timothy Mazzei in court in Riverhead on Nov. 13, when he said he intended to pay back his victims. The settlement only applied to two homeowners in Suffolk, however, so many of the victims, in both Suffolk and Nassau, are still out tens of thousands of dollars. According to Miriam Sholder, deputy communications director for the Nassau County D.A. at the time of the arrest in Suffolk, the Nassau D.A. was still looking into the claims against Moser.
The Herald’s June article featured Andrew and Christine Polizzi, who live on West Fulton Street in Bay Park, and Christine’s parents, Donna and Vincent Prisciandaro, who live on Sperry Street. They said they filed complaints against Moser with the Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs, alleging that he received payments from them to raise their homes and never completed the work.
Donna Prisciandaro said in June that she signed a contract with a company named Ducky Johnson Home Elevations to raise her home, and that the company subcontracted Capstone to do the work. She said she put down a $27,150 deposit in April 2015, but the construction never began. She provided the Herald with copies of the contract and checks given to the company. Eventually, another contractor raised her home, but it remained untouched for 11 months after the work had stopped.
The Polizzis said they gave $180,000 to Capstone to raise their home, but the company stopped paying its subcontractors, and so they stopped working on the Polizzis’ house. Andrew said he was hit with $50,000 in liens by the subcontractors, and he provided the Herald with a copy of one lien for $29,000.
Moser did not respond to six calls seeking comment about the claims in June or to calls after he was arrested in October. His attorney also could not be reached for comment.
The Polizzis and Prisciandaros said that despite the fact that another contractor eventually helped finish the work on their homes, they still lost money. They filed complaints against Capstone with the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs.
“The Nassau County Home Improvement license for this company was suspended by the Office of Consumer Affairs in April of 2016,” Commissioner Madalyn Farley said in June. “There are 13 complaints and 23 violations filed against this company. The office has referred matters related to this company to the district attorney for possible criminal prosecution.”
This story was breaking as the Herald went to press. Check liherald.com for the updated version.