Source: US State of New York
Operators of SJR Enterprises Charged with Defrauding Dozens of
Upstate Homeowners, Subcontractors, and Lending Institutions
Certified HUD Consultant Charged with Aiding in Fraudulent Scheme
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York State Police Superintendent Keith Corlett today announced the arrest and arraignment of Robert Decker, a/k/a Bob Dale, 66; Scott Driscoll, 44; and Robert Langlais, 67, for their roles in a large-scale contractor fraud scheme perpetrated against dozens of unsuspecting homeowners and businesses across upstate New York. The 17-count indictment was unsealed in Albany County Court today before the Honorable William A. Carter.
“Many of these victims invested their life savings so that they could improve their homes for themselves and their families, but instead of building newer and safer homes, all that these three defendants built was a house of lies,” said Attorney General James. “We won’t allow anyone to take advantage of and steal from innocent New Yorkers trying to build better lives for themselves.”
“Our joint investigation found that these individuals took hundreds of thousands of dollars from homeowners and instead of performing work as promised, diverted funds for their own personal use,” said Superintendent Corlett. “We will not tolerate this illegal behavior, and I applaud the work of our members and our partners at the Attorney General’s Office for holding these bad actors accountable and bringing a measure of justice for the victims.”
Today’s charges are the result of a joint investigation by the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau in the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the New York State Police’s Financial Crimes Unit that began in the summer of 2019 after numerous homeowners filed complaints with the New York State Police and the OAG’s Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau. According to statements by the OAG and documents filed in court, between at least May 2018 and October 2019, Decker and Driscoll operated SJR Enterprises, LLC (SJR) as a home improvement contracting company. The indictment lays out how the two defendants fraudulently obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars from dozens of upstate homeowners for home improvement work they never performed or failed to properly perform, as well as nearly $100,000 in fraudulent loans and materials never paid for as promised. They then diverted the money for personal gain, including nearly $400,000 in cash withdrawals and payments to themselves, nearly $150,000 to pay personal and business debts, and over $50,000 in retail purchases through iTunes and Amazon, and at numerous restaurants.
According to the indictment, several homeowners obtained substantial loans to pay for work the defendants either never performed or improperly completed and several homeowners were left with houses that were uninhabitable. One victim paid over $25,000 to install plumbing and electricity in an Albany brownstone, but the work was never performed, leaving her without plumbing, electricity, and heat through the entire winter of 2019.
Additionally, the indictment alleges that another homeowner obtained a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 203k loan to fund $89,000 in renovations. Decker and Driscoll fraudulently obtained and diverted nearly $25,000 of the homeowner’s loan funds for materials, and then spent the remainder on personal expenditures. Under the 203k program, the homeowner’s lending institution required the homeowner to obtain a certified HUD consultant to carefully inspect and review the work performed by Driscoll and Decker for quality before disbursing the loan funds to SJR. The homeowner hired Langlais as the consultant who fraudulently signed off on roof work that had not been performed, windows that were improperly installed and broken, a furnace that did not work, and over $5,000 of cleanup costs, when, in fact, the defendants failed to remove debris from the property. After these “renovations,” the homeowner was left living in a house with no siding, broken windows, no working kitchen, and old windows and siding strewn across the yard. The home was left in this disarray for more than eight months.
The indictment charges Decker and Driscoll jointly with one count of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony; 12 counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class D felony; and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class E felony; Langlais is jointly charged with the Scheme to Defraud and one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree. Driscoll and Langlais are jointly charged with three counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, a class E felony.
In 2003, following numerous complaints from homeowners, the OAG obtained a consent order that permanently enjoined Decker from operating as a home improvement contractor in the state of New York unless he filed a $100,000 performance bond with the OAG. Decker has never filed such a bond.
If convicted, Decker and Driscoll each face up to 10 to 20 years in prison, and Langlais faces up to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.
Driscoll and Langlais were released pending trial today. Decker was released with electronic monitoring.
The charges against the defendants are allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The OAG wishes to thank the New York State Police for their valuable assistance in this investigation.
Attorney General James recommends practicing the following tips to protect against becoming a victim of a home improvement scam:
- Shop around: Get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job.
- Get it in writing: Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed.
- Don’t 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.
- Get references: Check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers, and neighbors. Always contact references provided to you. Residents of New York City, or Westchester, Nassau, or Suffolk Counties can check their local consumer affairs office.
- Know your rights: Consumers have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.
Any New York resident who believes they have been scammed as part of a home improvement contract, should submit a complaint to the OAG immediately with as many details as possible.
The OAG case is being prosecuted by Special Counsel Benjamin S. Clark of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, with the assistance of Legal Support Analyst Jamirah Williams-Johnson and Supervising Analyst Paul Strocko. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Deputy Bureau Chief Joseph G. D’Arrigo. The OAG investigation was conducted by Investigator Mitchell Paurowski, under the supervision of Supervising Investigator Mark Spencer and Deputy Bureau Chief Antoine Karam. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Oliver Pu-Folkes. Both the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau and the Investigations Bureau are part of the Division for Criminal Justice, which is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General José Maldonado.
Homeowner complaints were handled by Assistant Attorneys General Amy Schallop and Emily Auletta of the OAG’s Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine and Bureau Chief Jane Azia. The Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau is part of the Division for Economic Justice, which is overseen by Chief Deputy Attorney General Chris D’Angelo.
Both the Division for Criminal Justice and the Division for Economic Justice are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.