After Hurricane Irma swept through Marco Island a year ago, it took homeowner Lauren Ross two months to find a contractor to fix her damaged roof.
Lured by a strong sales pitch, she wrote a check for $17,500 to Remodeling Services & Complete Restoration (RSACR), an Indiana contractor who was supposedly affiliated with Star Construction of Fort Myers. But after tile was removed from the roof, work abruptly stopped. Months passed and nothing more was done, RSACR stopped returning her calls and since a lien has been placed on her house.
"Itís been a nightmare," Ross said.
She is among more than 30 southwest Florida homeowners who filed complaints after losing money to RSACR after last Septemberís storm. In response, the Marco Island Police Department and the Collier County Sheriffís Office have opened investigations into RSACR and Star Construction for fraud and grand theft.
The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation also is investigating RSACRís president, Mike Clark, and his employee Lindy Algin for unlicensed practice of contracting.
Residents hired RSACR under the impression that Clark was a representative of Star Construction. However, the owner of Star Construction, Jim Pickens, said he never gave Clark permission to use Starís license or represent his company ó in fact he didnít even know of the 30-plus clients.
"He (Clark) was on the list to pull permits, but he could only pull it after he brought it to Star and only if we wanted to," Pickens said. "I knew nothing until I got calls months later from homeowners."
Clark told DBPR that he had permission to use the license, and offered a document proving there was an agreement between the two allowing Clark to pull permits as a representative of Star Construction.
"Jim offered to make us partners and work together on any claims he would have and anything that we had," Clark said in a statement to DBPR.
Clark also worked with a company named SFR Services. He subcontracted SFR to do work on some of the homes, said SFRís owner Koh Knox.
In Rossí case, Clark subcontracted them without her knowledge, Ross said.
When RSACR failed to pay SFR for their work, Knox said he tried to contact Clark but there was no answer.
In response, SFR requested money from Ross directly: a sum of $25,000 just for removing tiles, she said. She refused to pay SFR because she had already paid RSACR, so SFR put a lien on her home, Ross said.
The Florida attorney general is currently investigating SFR for price gouging.
"As far as pricing goes, we work off a system called Xactimate," Knox said. "We donít dictate pricing."
Knox said his company has been finishing RSACRís work on many houses even when RSACR has not forwarded any payments.
Homeowner Ted Sinclair hired SFR to finish repairs to his house after losing money to RSACR.
He and his wife signed a contract and handed over $60,000 to RSACR to repair their roof, pool cage and yard. None of the work was completed and the family was out another $8,000 to keep the roof from leaking, Sinclair said.
"They took advantage of my wifeís good will," he said.
Fortunately, in March he was contacted by SFR saying they wanted to help solve the issue by finishing the job. SFR was able to get Sinclair more money from the insurance company to pay for the work.
"They are finishing it as we speak," Sinclair said. "We are happy with them."
Clark faced 14 charges filed against him in Indiana including theft and fraud, which were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea and a promise to pay back one of the victims, according to the Hendricks County clerkís office. In addition, he was sentenced to two years probation for fraud in Monroe County, Florida.
The current Collier County investigation also includes complaints from south Florida and Puerto Rico.
FEMA contractor Steven Cudd filed a complaint about Clark when he entrusted him to order supplies to bring to Puerto Rico for disaster relief. He said AMK Energy Services invested $210,000 in Clark for supplies and the only $4,000 in supplies were shipped.
"Clark is a con artist," Cudd said.
The president of the AMK Energy, Matthew Starsiak, said he is waiting to press charges because Clark promised to make it right.
Multiple attempts to reach Clark by phone for comment were unsuccessful.
For consumers who want to verify that a contractor is licensed, DBPR recommends they go to www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr for more information.
Contact Cat Gloria at [email protected] Follow @cat_gloria.