What to Know
- Homeowners are still grappling with contractors failing to do work and houses in disrepair six years after Sandy
- In Nassau County, a consumer protection bureau has received more than 50 complaints about single unlicensed contractor
- Nearly a third of all cases of contractor fraud identified by New York Rising have been attributed to that contractor.
It’s been six years since Sandy hit the tri-state, and homeowners and authorities are still grappling with homes in disrepair and contractors who have stopped working.
For the homeowners, it means waiting longer to get back home.
“At first I was told it was going to be finished in four months, then six months came,” said Chris Kehoe, an NYPD officer in Freeport. “A year came and then you realize this is never going to end.”
“The mortgage keeps increasing and I’m paying rent,” said homeowner Samantha Nembhard, who moved out of her Freeport house last February. “I’m going to lose my home anyway because I cannot afford to pay both.”
These homeowners share a common bond with more than 50 others. They signed contracts with Fred Gutterman of JBJ Contracting to help them elevate and repair their homes. They are all in various states of disrepair.
“He asked us to give another 50,000 dollars,” said Ilona Jagnow of Freeport, who is helping her mother rebuild her house. “Unfortunately I did and that only got me two more days of work.”
“There was always a story,” said Donna Giarraputo, also of Freeport. “He had to pay this subcontractor, had to pay that one.”
But then the subcontractors went after the homeowners.
“I found I had liens on my house,” said Kehoe.
To date, the Nassau County Consumer Affairs Department has received 52 complaints about Gutterman -- and according to the county, he’s not a licensed contractor.
Gutterman told the I-Team he obtained building permits by using the license of another company, V.A.R. But the owner of V.A.R. says he’s a victim too and that he only learned Gutterman was using his license when Nassau County alerted him.
The I-Team couldn’t find Gutterman at home which is the address listed for his contracting business, but on the phone he said he intended to finish the jobs but ran out of money. He also blames New York Rising for telling homeowners to stop paying him.
New York Rising – which is part of the Governor’s office of storm recovery – says it has substantiated 171 cases of contractor fraud. Of those, 55 cases involved Fred Gutterman.
“Taking advantage of displaced New Yorkers and stealing taxpayer money in the process is not only illegal but inexcusable.. (we) will continue to work with defrauded homeowners to help them fully recover…”
“I spoke to the district attorney and the answer is always the same,” said Giarraputo. “We are checking. Checking everyone’s financials.”
The Nassau District Attorney’s office says they are investigating each claim filed against Gutterman – but experts say cases can be tough to prove.
Touro Law Center attorney Melissa Luckman has helped dozens of Sandy victims and says many contractors know how to dodge charges.
“By completing some portion of the project, the DA’s office has said it is very hard to show that the contractor intended to take these funds.”
While authorities investigate, these families are exhausting options to return home.
“I want to see justice with Fred,” said Giarraputo. “I want to know what he did with the money. And we all need to be back in our houses.”