Investigation prompts push to force contractor to pay back unsatisfied customers
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Replacing the roof on your home is expensive, but what if you paid thousands of dollars and the roofer you hired never did the work?
Local 12's Duane Pohlman investigated a local contractor who owes tens of thousands of dollars for work he never did.
4 years ago, Ohio’s Attorney General successfully sued Jake Wagers and his company for taking money and not performing the work.
Wagers said that he's sorry and that he'll find a way to make it right, but former customers are still waiting to get all their money back.
And that's not all. It was discovered that Wagers has a new company and Local 12’s Duane Pohlman uncovered a new case that triggered a new lawsuit from the attorney general.
“I just accepted it, we're not going to get the money back,” said Betty Gratwahl.
88-year old Betty Gratwahl of Fairfield said that she has given up hope she'll ever be paid back in full for a new roof that was never installed.
“It sort of makes you feel like can you trust people again?” said Betty.
In April 2011, Betty signed a contract with Ohio Insurance Assessments in Hamilton, which is a company that is co-owned by Jake Wagers.
That company has 19 complaints on file at the Ohio Attorney General's office.
Wagers admits that it is not good on paper for him.
“[Laughs] Right. No it's not. This is not good. No. It is not,” said Wagers.
Betty paid $4,200, but Wagers' company never did the work. Even after six years and two court orders, Wagers and his partner still haven't returned most of her money.
“The facts are the facts. It happened. It was not intentional, but it happened and I just got to take care of it,” said Wagers.
Wagers agreed to talk to Local 12’s Duane Pohlman at a park in Middletown, admitting he not only took money from Betty and never did the work, but also did the same thing to others, too, blaming it all on "bad business" decisions.
Asked if he wanted to pay Betty back, Wagers said: “Absolutely and not just her, everyone.”
According to a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Attorney General's office in July 2013, seven people, including Betty Gratwohl, paid almost $25,000 to Wager’s company for roofs that were never installed.
The attorney general won the suit.
“What we want to do is get the victims their money back. We file a suit. We get a judgment and then, we have to go collect it,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Wagers started paying back. Betty received a check in July of 2013 for a partial payment of $516.56.
But no more checks arrived.
“I didn't understand that,” said Betty. “They just send me one check. Why didn't I get the rest of the money?
Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a new motion against Wagers and his business partner and in March of 2014, got an additional civil penalty for $45,000, making the total amount owed $75,800.
But Wagers still hasn't paid.
When asked what $3,800 meant to her, Betty admitted: “Well, now, it means a lot.”
“These people were done wrong. It was unintentional, but it happened. They deserve the money,” said Wagers.
Wagers told Local 12’s Duane Pohlman that he started a new company, “Premier Claims Solutions,” to pay Betty and the others back.
“It is a lot of money It has nothing to do with I have to or not. It's right and it's going to get done,” said Wagers.
“I think he's smart enough to know how to manipulate the system. How to, even though there was a judgment against him, to hide his assets, how to move in to a different company,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
As Local 12’s Duane Pohlman was investigating, he was tipped to more trouble.
This time at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall in Loveland.
“It hurts really bad to know we signed up with this guy and then he just took everything,” said Chuck Garrett, the commander of VFW post 5354.
A group of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who are trying to save the old VFW hall, signed a contract with Wagers new company, paying more than $5,000.
They didn't get a call back and didn't get the roof they were promised.
“We went back and forth trying to contact him all the way up to October time frame and that's when he finally sent us a message that we can talk to his lawyer, but we never got a lawyer's name, so we got a lawyer,” said Garrett.
But Wagers had a different take on the situation.
“No. That's completely false. The gentleman I worked with is no longer there,” said Wagers. “They breached the contract and wanted their money back.”
Local 12’s Duane Pohlman passed on the information to the attorney general's office.
“What you gave us about that veterans group was very, very vital and very important,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “And what it enabled us to do is to move forward. We are going to be filing another civil suit against this guy and were going to go after him.”
The AG did go after Wagers, filing a new lawsuit in Butler County, seeking a court order for Wagers and his company "reimburse all consumers found to have been damaged" and to "prohibit [Wager and his company] from engaging in consumer transactions" until he pays what he owes.
Within days, Wagers sent a check to the vets.
“I've already made a payment to them for $2500. Spoke to their attorney. They gave us 30 days to come up with the rest and that's not a problem,” said Wagers.
“You [Duane] did great! We got actually word that we're actually getting some money back,” said Garrett. “We won and it feels good.”
But back in Fairfield, Betty is still waiting and praying.
“Just help me get through the day, dear Lord,” Betty prays.
While Jake Wagers promises to make things right and continues to apologize.
“I am truly and deeply sorry for what happened. I really am and I am going to payback what I owe. It's just the way that I am. I know you may not believe me. I understand that, but it is going to happen,” said Wagers.
Attorney General DeWine said that his office is going through Wagers' financial statements and may force something called a “debtors' exam” to find all of Wagers' assets to pay back all those people, including Betty.
So, how is he able to start a new company while he still owes all this money? It's difficult to stop that.
In most cases, if you bar a contractor who owes money from continuing to do work, there would be no hope of anyone getting paid back.
Obviously, this is not an ordinary case, so DeWine's office says it's not only going after his income but his assets.