TRENTON, N.J. — Following Superstorm Sandy flooded the first floor of his New Jersey home with 4 feet of water, Rich Bindell shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to a contractor he understood was accepted by the nation and had done other work in his city.
Five years after the storm, the construction project remains pristine and the builder faces up to 10 years in prison after acknowledging this month to scamming over 30 homeowners and employees of roughly $1.9 million.
James “Jaime” Lawson is just one of over 200 people charged in New Jersey with $11 million worth of Sandy-related fraud at a list that continues to grow five years after the storm. The majority of the cases involved homeowners submitting applications but others have been builders such as Lawson.
Others such as mortgage agents and technology companies have been charged with fraud in New York after authorities say loan plans were scammed by them after the storm.
In choosing contractors who found opportunity in chaos can offer lessons after recent storms there prosecutors and victims say their expertise.
“The instances involving builders defrauding victims, to me, are the worst of the worse,” Attorney General Christopher Porrino explained. “You have people out and down hoping to put their lives back together. It is like getting struck twice.”
Complaints began coming in about a month later Sandy, said Sgt. Mark Malinowski of the Ocean County prosecutor’s office economic crimes unit. The county was among the state hit by Sandy.
Malinowksi believes when they are utilizing government grant money to cover repairs, people let down their guards. “It is different than taking money from their personal checking account,” he explained.
Bindell contacted builders to get price quotes and at the summer of 2015 he heard through word of mouth.
“He did a few tasks in city and I proceeded to look at them. He was cheaper than the other men and he was listed as a licensed builder,” Bindell explained.
The almost $150,000 project would take to complete, Bindell said he was advised. It took Lawson a year to complete the programs and Bindell said for elevating the home without a 30, when he began work, Lawson was fined.
The project sat while Bindell along with his loved ones, by texts and telephone, reached out to Lawson in their home. It was Bindell received a call from an advisor with the government’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Mitigation and Elevation program, which had revoked Lawson’s permit for lack of insurance.
Bindell received from the authorities, but is out roughly $. Use a home equity loan to come up with the additional $ 160,000 and then he then had to tap into his retirement savings to resolve. The project to raise the house and fix flood damage is continuing and he has been leasing a home elsewhere with his spouse and two kids since.
According to his experience, he advises storm victims to take their time rebuilding.
“I would do my own background test. Do not take the state’s word for anything,” he explained. “Make sure that the contractor isn’t carrying on so many tasks.”
Porrino has composed attorneys general in Florida Texas and Puerto Rico with all the identities of a few of the fraudsters.
“You need to be really skeptical,” Porrino explained. “Anytime you’re paying in advance for service you’re in danger.”
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