September 19, 2009

Duped!

Three years ago, we got a pamphlet in the mail. On the front was the Pennsylvania keystone in blue and gold, with the words Pennsylvania Housing something or other (I can’t quite remember) printed in the middle. Upon reading the pamphlet we realized this was a state run program that helped low income families and local contractors. It helped low income families acquire a loan to get badly needed home repairs. The repairs were to be done by local contractors, giving them a chance to do business in the colder times of the year when business was slow.

This sounded right up our alley. We desperately needed a new roof and heater. Neither one had been replaced since its construction in the 1930’s. Adam had grown extremely tired of chasing roof shingles every time we had strong winds, which happens quite often living on a hill like ours.

Our neighbors got quite a show one night when Adam realized our flashing, on one side of our house, had removed itself and had flown all over our hill. In his haste, Adam ran out of the house in his underwear. He ran up and down the hill, and into some of our neighbors’ yards, trying to retrieve the pieces of our home.

Lesson 14: Chasing pieces of your house throughout the neighborhood in your underwear = white trash

Adam and I decided to give this organization a try. A nice man came to the house to see what all we needed. Seeing we desperately needed a roof, and taking note of our fancy Sears brand furnace from 1930 that barely heated our house (We had $500 monthly heating bills when we were only setting the temperature to 62 degrees!), he agreed we definitely qualified for the program.

About a month later the ball had begun to roll. We qualified for a loan, and contractors were contacted. Within the week we got a new furnace. I couldn’t believe the difference! Our house was warm and our utility bill 2/3 less. A roofing company came and started with the plans for our new roof. We were so excited.

Then something peculiar happened. When we got our loan, the money was supposedly put into an Escrow account and money was to be taken out as the work got done. We were given a check to pay something and it bounced. Huh?!

This scared me. Why would it bounce? There should have been enough money left in there for a whole entire roof. I looked at Adam and said, “Call the furnace guy and see if he really got paid.”

Adam phoned him and we found that he had only received half of his payment, the other half bounced. I could feel my blood start to boil. We had four kids at the time and every penny counted. You mess with my money, you mess with my emotions!

Adam called the guy who organized the whole thing. The man who talked to us on a regular basis began to ignore all of Adam’s calls. I have to give Adam credit. He was quite vigilant, calling this guy several times a day.
“I don’t want him to forget about us.” Adam said with a smile.

Scared they were going to get ripped off too, we told the roofers, who had already done half of our roof, to hold off until they got their money. Needless to say, we still only have half a roof. We have the materials, they have been sitting in our driveway, covered in cob webs, for three years.

Lesson 15: three years of gutters full of shingles from the 30’s, a half finished roof, and a driveway full of unused roofing material = white trash

Adam went to a lawyer, but was told to get in line. Here, this guy had been doing similar things for years. He owed over a million dollars to various poor people and businesses. Adam came home feeling defeated. He called the furnace guy, who we had kept in contact with, and told him the bad news.

“This isn’t right.” the man said, “Someone should contact the news station or something. This has got to stop.”

He was right. All I could think about was that man driving around in his Corvette, and talking about his brand new in ground pool, while I had half a roof and no chance at the new gutters I needed. It made the momma bear syndrome kick in. You don’t steal from my family!

I contacted every news station in the Pittsburgh area. That same day a local undercover reporter e-mailed me. He wanted to investigate the story. He came to the house a couple of days later. We showed him the information from our lawyer, which showed the names of other various people who had been ripped off. He even went to the guy’s house and asked him how it felt to steal from poor people. The investigator called us laughing because the guy had locked himself in his garage for hours, trying to avoid the reporter.

The special aired a couple of weeks later. Adam and I got phone calls and e-mails thanking us from people who were just about to do business with him, but saw him on the news. Of course, we also got calls from friends and family from where we grew up who get the Pittsburgh news, who had seen us on the old boob-tube. That was embarrassing!

Lesson 16: friends and family seeing what an idiot you are on television = white trash

Despite the humiliation, we were glad we helped some. It also got those who had been fooled to rally together, and the Attorney General got involved. Of course when they did, they found he hadn’t paid taxes in several years and the IRS had to get involved as well.

Adam has had to go to a few hearings over the years, not for our own gain. We’ve known for quite some time we weren’t going to get the work done, and we are going to pay on a pointless second mortgage for the next 30 years, but we’re glad our misfortune saved some from the same fate.

There are days that I feel guilty about having a hand in putting this man in jail (which is where he currently resides). This man had a family, and I feel bad that they have to suffer. Then I look at that hideous pile of roofing, and the one gutter, full of old shingles, that is going to fall off into my neighbor’s driveway at any second, and I no longer feel too bad.

So, let this be a lesson to all of you. Don’t be na├»ve like Adam and myself. We had a hard time believing that people weren’t naturally honest and nice. If you are looking into getting house work done, please check the BBB. Do some research before diving into an agreement with someone you don’t know.

Lesson 17: check a contractor's background, and don’t let people take advantage of you, or you too can be white trash!

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