A story by the Associated Press and carried by U.S. News details the issues faced by many homeowners who were defrauded by various contractors in New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy and the effects they are still feeling five years after the storm. One example is James “Jaime” Lawson a contractor who now faces ten years in prison after admitting this month that he scammed more than thirty homeowners out of approximately $1.9 million. Lawson is one of 200 people the State of New Jersey charged with fraud related to Superstorm Sandy that in total amounted to approximately $11 million. The majority of the fraud cases were for fraudulent applications for relief funds but some were related to contracting fraud.
In the cases of contractor fraud, like Lawson’s, the contractor would charge homeowners in advance for repairs to their home and would leave the work half completed before leaving and not returning to complete it. Many of the contractors now accused of or convicted of fraud were state approved contractors. Prosecutors have said the cases in New Jersey should serve as a lesson for homeowners in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico who will be in need of contractors in the months and potentially years to come to repair the damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said “the cases involving contractors defrauding victims, to me, are the worst of the worse. You’ve got people down and out trying to put their lives back together. It’s like getting hit twice.”
Some homeowners like Rich Bindell ended up losing out about $20,000 from the scam by Lawson even after recouping most of the money lost in the scam back from the government. Bindell still had to tap into his retirement savings and use a home equity loan to complete the repair work on his home that Lawson had started but never finished. Bindell recommends that homeowners now facing rebuilding in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico to do their own background checks and to not take the state’s word on the quality or effectiveness of contractors.
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