Pa. AG Accuses Lehigh County Man in Home Improvement Scheme

December 14, 2005

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (BCP) has filed a civil lawsuit against a Lehigh County man accused of accepting more than $147,000 from consumers for home improvement projects that he failed to start, failed to complete or performed in a shoddy, substandard manner. The lawsuit is the result of an investigation into complaints from homeowners located in Chester, Lehigh and Montgomery counties.

Attorney General Tom Corbett identified the defendant as Peter A. Piraino, whose last known address is 5963 Furnace Hill Road, Zionsville, Lehigh County, and his businesses Ash Tree Landscaping and Affordable Remodeling, of the same address. The suit claims that the defendant violated Pennsylvania’s Consumer Protection Law and Fictitious Names Act.

BCP investigators said Piraino through 2005 entered into contracts with consumers to perform various home improvement projects such as additions, roofing, walkways, stairs, patios and retaining walls. Piraino promoted his business using flyers, mailers and advertisements in the Yellow Book.

Piraino’s ads claimed that all work and materials are “guaranteed.” The contracts promised that the projects would be completed in a substantial workmanlike manner.

“Unfortunately, many of Piraino’s customers tell a different story,” Corbett said. “We received complaints from consumers who claimed that Piraino, in some cases, was either a ‘no-show’ after cashing their checks or he failed to finish the work that he started. Other homeowners said Piraino’s job performance was so shoddy and unprofessional that they had to hire and pay another contractor to repair or complete the projects.”

Corbett said Piraino offered consumers a host of unfounded or suspect excuses as to why the work was not properly and timely completed, including claims that he was robbed on several different occasions. In nearly all of the complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office, Piraino refused to refund consumers’ money.

A Montgomery County consumer told the Attorney General’s Office that in June 2004 she hired Piraino to construct an addition on her home and repair a bedroom. The room was intended to be a 26th birthday present for her disabled daughter who is confined to a wheelchair and on a ventilator. Piraino was paid $37,500 for the work to be completed by September 2004. The work reportedly remains incomplete and unfit for living.

One Lehigh County consumer in July 2005 paid Piraino a $1,500 deposit to construct a walkway and retaining wall outside his home. The consumer said Piraino started the project however the work he performed was unprofessional and substandard. Piraino reportedly told the consumer that he needed an additional $150 for materials because he claimed to have been robbed the night before. According to the lawsuit, Piraino, to date, has not completed the work or returned the homeowner’s money.

In another case, an Allentown homeowner this past June hired Piraino and paid him nearly $6,750 to construct walkways, steps and a patio. The consumer claims that the work was shoddy, unprofessional and created a dangerous condition. Piraino reportedly acknowledged that the work was deficient and agreed to refund the consumer $3,000. To date, the consumer has not received his promised refund.

The complaint also accuses the defendant of failing to provide consumers with a proper contract explaining their legal right to cancel the transaction within three business days. Addtionally, Piraino allegedly violated Pennsylvania’s Fictitious Names Act by failing to register A-Plus Remodeling, Ash Tree Landscaping and Affordable Remodeling as legal businesses.

Corbett said, “Our main objective in this case is to prohibit what appears to be a pattern of fraud with Mr. Piraino that has already stretched across three Pennsylvania counties.”

Beginning in 1998, Piraino has filed three petitions in bankruptcy court in an attempt to eliminate a portion of his debts. His latest attempt in May 2005 was unsuccessful.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an order:

– Barring Piraino from engaging in home improvement activities until he has paid full restitution to consumers.

– Requiring Piraino to pay more than $147,000 to consumers who have already filed complaints, plus pay full restitution to those who come forward with proof that they were defrauded.

– Requiring Piraino to pay civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and $3,000 for each violation involving a consumer age 60 or older.

– Requiring Piraino to forfeit all profits that were derived as a result of his alleged unfair, deceptive and illegal business practices.

– Requiring Piraino to pay the Commonwealth’s costs of investigation.

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