Robert F. Culkin, Jr. Owner Of CNY Drain Cleaning And Plumbing, Preyed Largely On Seniors
Schneiderman: Fraudulent Home Contractors Who Prey On Hardworking New Yorkers Will Be Held Accountable
SYRACUSE – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has obtained an order, signed by Supreme Court Justice Anthony J. Paris on June 22, 2016, barring Robert F. Culkin, Jr. from performing any plumbing work in connection with his drain cleaning and home improvement contracting business. In addition, the Court ordered that Mr. Culkin revise his contracts to include all disclosures required by the New York State Home Improvement Contract law and that he obtain a contract signed by the consumer and himself prior to commencing work. Mr. Culkin’s contracts and advertisements must also clearly and conspicuously disclose to consumers that he operates a drain-cleaning service only, that he is not a plumber and is prohibited from performing any plumbing services. Once the contract is signed, Mr. Culkin is prohibited from increasing the prices after job completion. Robert Culkin must pay eight consumers restitution totaling $8,224.38 and discharge account balances totaling $31,737.60 for an additional ten consumers.
Based on consumer complaints, many of them senior citizens age 65 and older, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman commenced an investigation of Robert F. Culkin, Jr. owner of CNY Drain Cleaning and Plumbing. Consumers had complained that Mr. Culkin had orally misrepresented the cost of the job he was called to do, failed to provide written contracts before commencing work, demanded consumers sign blank documents which he then used to create what appeared to be a “signed” invoice, grossly overcharged for services rendered, did more work than he was authorized to do, did poor quality work, charged for services he did not perform (such as cleaning and disinfecting), and failed to timely complete jobs. Several consumers who had refused to pay the exorbitant prices he demanded upon job completion also complained that they had felt threatened by his attempts to collect payment.
“When hiring someone to perform a service, hardworking New York consumers deserve to receive the services they paid for at the price they were quoted, in a manner that is both timely and professional,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This order sends the message that fraudulent home contractors who prey on unsuspecting New Yorkers will be held accountable.”
Mr. Culkin advertised that he was a plumber capable of handling all plumbing, drain and sewer problems, despite the fact that he did not hold a plumbing license and was not permitted to perform any plumbing work in Onondaga County. Mr. Culkin had repeatedly ignored an Order issued by the Commissioner of the Onondaga County Department of Water Environment Protection prohibiting him from violating state and local plumbing laws, including failure to obtain the required permits and inspections.
The lawsuit filed by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office on February 1, 2016, alleged that Robert F. Culkin, Jr. had violated numerous consumer protection laws, including laws prohibiting deceptive and illegal business practices and false advertising, as well as laws governing home improvement contractors and door-to-door sales. Because so many consumers were seniors, ages 65-91, the Attorney General asked the Court to impose a civil penalty for fraud committed against elderly persons.
The Attorney General also alleged that Mr. Culkin falsely advertised that he ran a 24-hour business and employed trained technicians. In fact, Mr. Culkin was not available to provide round-the-clock services because he ran a solo operation and held another full-time job. Moreover, consumers were often charged extremely high “after-hour” rates for jobs that could have been completed during the day, but which he had to start or finish in the evening or on weekends. Consequently, the court’s order requires Mr. Culkin to inform consumers if they are going to be charged higher after-hour rates so they can decide whether to sign the contract.
Consumers who have unresolved disputes involving Mr. Culkin and CNY Drain Cleaning and Plumbing Services are directed to call the Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-771-7755 or 315-448-4848.
When planning to use a home contractor, consumers should consider the following tips:
- Never agree to have work done on the spot, especially when potential contractors are marketing door-to-door.
- Determine exactly what you want done, then look for a qualified contractor.
- Shop Around; get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided.
- Ask for references: check with the Better Business Bureau; banks; suppliers; and neighbors. Always contact any references provided to you.
- Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed.
- Do not pay unreasonable advance sums; negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job.
- Never pay the full price up front.
- Remember that you have three days to cancel after signing a home improvement contract, but all cancellations must be in writing.
Additional information on how to avoid fraudulent home improvement contractors can be found on the Attorney General’s Website, http://www.ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/home-improvement-fact-sheet.
Attorney General Schneiderman thanks John R. Williams Jr., Plumbing Control Supervisor at the Onondaga County Water Environment Protection, for his cooperation in this matter.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin of the Syracuse Regional Office under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge Ed Thompson of the Syracuse Regional Office, with assistance from Consumer Frauds Representative Jean Ryan and Investigator Andrea Buttenschon