New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced that his office has filed a lawsuit against a Dutchess County home improvement contractor who reportedly preyed upon immigrant workers and vulnerable consumers.
R.E.M. Builders and its owner Robert E. Muscat were served with a lawsuit that alleges that the home improvement contractor defrauded consumers by failing to do or complete home improvement projects for which they had paid and for failing to pay wages to workers, in particular, undocumented day laborers who speak little or no English.
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Dutchess County, claims that since at least 2002, R.E.M. Builders has repeatedly failed to pay wages promised to foreign workers who speak little or no English. When workers have confronted Muscat about the unpaid wages, he reportedly threatened to report them to federal immigration authorities and threatened them physically.
In addition, the owner reportedly falsely told customers that the company was “fully insured” even though it had no workers’ compensation insurance for the immigrant labor or liability insurance to protect the consumers for damage to their property caused by his company.
According to legal papers, R.E. M. Builders also took large advance payments from consumers and either failed to complete projects or performed work in a shoddy manner. The home improvement contractor also violated state consumer protection laws by failing to protect consumer deposits by placing them in escrow accounts.
In one case, a couple hired R.E.M. Builders to replace the siding on their townhouse. The couple paid more than $8,000 in advance on the promise that the project would be completed in a matter of weeks.
After waiting at least five months, the couple reportedly saw work on the project grind to a halt. When the couple discovered that R.E.M. Builders had failed to pay its workers, they gave more than $1,000 to the workers and contributed another $3,000 for materials that should have been purchased by R.E.M. Builders. To date, the project is not completed.
In another case, R.E.M. Builders was paid more than $20,000 to replace a roof and to build a second-story addition. Within a month of the project’s completion, the new roof leaked. R.E.M Builders’ reported failure for seven months to provide repairs promised in its warranty, resulted in the house becoming infested with black mold. R.E.M. Builders finally returned and gutted the ceiling to remove the soaked installation; however, the contractor reportedly soon abandoned the project, leaving the house with open rafters and a still-leaking roof.
Spitzer’s lawsuit seeks a court order requiring R.E.M. Builders to pay all past and present workers to whom its owes wages and to make restitution to consumers. It also seeks civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, and a court order banning Muscat from the home improvement industry unless he posts a $50,000 performance bond.
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