Fla. AG Pulls the Plug on Plumbing Company; Reportedly Targeted Seniors in Home Repair Scam

June 1, 2005

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist announced that his office has filed a civil lawsuit against a South Florida plumbing company alleging numerous violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Tri County Plumbing and its owners, Susan and Leslie Gilbert, and their son Randall Gilbert allegedly charged grossly inflated hidden costs for repairs, especially targeting the elderly.

The investigation was initiated after the Attorney General’s Office received numerous complaints from consumers in Broward and Miami-Dade counties claiming that Tri County falsely advertised that it would repair leaks and other plumbing conditions in emergency situations.

“Preying on citizens in their moment of crisis is unacceptable,” said Crist. “This company claimed to provide emergency plumbing services, but instead victimized the elderly. We are committed to putting a stop to such practices and protecting the citizens of Florida.”

The investigation by the Attorney General’s Office revealed the following:

* Tri County sent commissioned salesmen to consumers’ homes, not plumbers;
* Representatives charged consumers an initial fee, between $75 and $150, and demanded immediate payment;
* Investigators determined that senior citizens were charged a higher fee – sometimes as much as $500.

Once the initial fee was paid, the Tri County representatives proceeded to inspect the reported problem and then reportedly charged an additional fee, between $250 and $350, for leak detection, even if the leak was readily visible. Senior citizens were often charged up to $850. The company then provided consumers with an artificially low estimate and pressured the consumers to sign a contract.

Tri County then proceeded to remove cabinets and demolish walls or floors, leaving the consumer’s home in disrepair. After the demolition, Tri County informed the consumer that the repair costs had increased and the work would not be completed unless the consumer agreed to pay grossly inflated fees.

If the consumer refused to pay the additional fees, Tri County reportedly abandoned the job and pursued collection activities against the consumer through lawsuits, homestead liens and foreclosure actions.

As part of its pressure tactics, Tri County falsely informed consumers that the recommended repairs would be covered by insurance or by a class action lawsuit if polybutylene pipes were discovered in the home.

The Attorney General’s Office has received 45 sworn affidavits from consumers, almost half from senior citizens. The Attorney General is seeking restitution and penalties in the amount of $10,000 for each violation by Tri County ($15,000 for each violation against a senior citizen).

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