What to Know
- Victims of Sandy allege contractor they hired to do work has cheated them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars
- The I-Team has learned the man hired was not a licensed contractor in Nassau County and had obtained permits using other licensed companies
- While the victims are trying to get some of their money back, Alexander Almaraz posted a picture of his new Lamborghini in March
Heidi Litman stands before her Merrick home, wondering how long it will be before her family can move back in. The house is far from finished, sitting on top of pilings, exposed to the elements. All because of a contractor who did not finish the job.
“There’s something wrong with the system for sure,” said Litman. “There are many unscrupulous contractors out there who just took advantage of people in vulnerable positions.”
Litman is a Sandy victim who is elevating her house to be protected from future flooding. Litman says she gave her contractor, Alexander Almaraz of Design Concepts Group LLC, $156,000 so far. The house was lifted onto pilings in April 2018, but it has remained like this for an entire year.
“His excuse was the contractor is backed up,” said Litman, “that there are so many houses that need pilings done.”
But when the I-Team called the company that Almaraz hired to lift the house, the owner told us he stopped work because he still has not been paid. He said Almaraz owes him $150,000.
Litman is not alone. Ralph Giugliano also hired Almaraz to lift his Baldwin house about two years ago. It remains in the air, exposed to the elements. Giugliano says he has paid Almaraz $132,000. Now he has dipped into this retirement savings to pay a new contractor to finish the job.
“I had over $140,000 in my 401k,” said Giugliano. “I’m down to $30,000 now.”
Litman and Giugliano were left with half-finished projects, but for Bonnie Salsone of Lido Beach, construction has not started, even though she says she gave Almaraz, $21,000.
“My house is still on the ground, the permits were incorrectly filed from the beginning,” explained Salsone. “I hired him because he said he would take care of everything and he knew what he was doing.”
Bonnie, Ralph, Heidi and others who hired Almaraz are banding together to get the Nassau district attorney to take action. They have already filed complaints with consumer affairs
“Consumer affairs was not helpful at all,” said Margaret Blitt of Seaford.
“A lot of these complaints are complicated,” said Nassau Consumer Affairs Commissioner Greg May. “It’s not clear cut and it’s not just he said, she said.”
May told the I-Team there are currently 21 open violations against Almaraz, and at least five open complaints.
Sometimes he can get victims some of their money back, but his office can’t issue criminal charges.
“Criminal charges are a harder standard and that really has to be determined by the district attorney’s office,” said May.
Almaraz was not in his Freeport office and he has not returned our phone calls or emails.
The I-Team has learned Almaraz was not a licensed contractor in Nassau County and had obtained permits using other licensed companies like Lainez Home improvement. An attorney for Lainez told us they believed they were only subcontractors on the job and that they too are victims of Almaraz, being owed more than $100,000.
On a recent afternoon, some Sandy victims stood before the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, demanding fraudulent contractors be held responsible.
“We are Sandy storm victims and we continue to be victimized,” said Bonnie Salsone of Lido Beach, New York. “We want the district attorney to take more action against bad contractors.”
While victims wait for the wheels of justice to move along, Almaraz is in a new set of wheels: He posted a picture of his new Lamborghini in March of last year. He has also set up disaster recovery businesses in at least five other states.
The Consumer Affairs Department says it is actively investigating Almaraz and encourages all victims to come forward and file complaints. It recently launched a new website where residents can check their contractors' licensing status. You can find it right here.