I got an update this week from Diane Plisga, of Duryea, who has been patiently waiting since last fall for a furnace from Sekelsky Plumbing and Heating. Plisga and her brother had already paid owner Joe Sekelsky $6,000 in advance, but instead of a furnace, Sekelsky delivered a series of sob stories, ranging from two deaths in the family to three toe amputations. Finally, after months of Plisga’s pleas, several cantankerous conversations with your Consumer Watchdog, and two columns documenting his shenanigans, Sekelsky showed up at Plisga’s home last week with a furnace.
Sekelsky brought in another plumber to do the installation, for which he collected an additional $1,000, and left Plisga with no bill of sale or warranty.
He did leave behind her old furnace and a load of cardboard boxes, though.
“He is in no shape to do any work,” Plisga told me. “He doesn’t look very well — his legs are all bandaged and he’s on crutches.”
Pardon my skepticism, but since my first column about Sekelsky published a few weeks ago, I’ve been flooded with calls and emails from folks from whom Sekelsky has taken thousands and thousands of dollars, yet who received little or nothing in return. Some have sued him and won judgments, but Sekelsky doesn’t pay. He goes out and does it again to someone else. The stories are all the same: No sooner does the customer sign a contract than tragedy befalls Sekelsky and he can’t do the job.
“I, too, am a victim of Joe Sekelsky’s lies and theft,” wrote Dr. Christine Renfer, of Pittston, in an email. “He took $6,000 from me for a furnace. I got many excuses — death in family, he’s ill, the furnace had a part missing when it came in, he had a heart attack.”
Renfer got so frustrated, she filed a report with Pittston Township police.
“I was told they could do nothing for me and told me to stop calling him,” she said. “Police told me he could press charges on me for harassment.”
Vicki Brzoza hired Sekelsky in 2013 to work on her home in Pittston.
“He did the same to us,” Brzoza wrote. “We paid him up front. He did some work and then he stopped coming and did not finish the job. We kept calling and he kept telling us why he could not come and finish up.”
Brzoza and her husband sued Sekelsky and won, but “as of this date, he has not paid one dime toward the money he owes us.”
Sad truth is, most of the time, there isn’t much you can do once you’ve given your money to a crooked contractor. The police call it a “civil matter” and a civil judgment is all but worthless if a crook won’t pay up. The trick is to learn as much as possible before you shell out your hard-earned cash to someone you don’t know well.
In Sekelsky’s case, a quick Google search reveals that last year, he was charged with animal cruelty after the SPCA received complaints that his Golden Retriever, Scooby, was starving. Sekelsky pleaded guilty to a summary charge of failure to provide veterinary care, agreed to forfeit ownership of Scooby and pay $4,627 in restitution to the SPCA for care provided to Scooby.
I wouldn’t hire a plumber who doesn’t feed his dog.
If starving Scooby isn’t enough to scare you off, visit Pennsylvania’s free, user-friendly Unified Judicial System website and search Sekelsky’s name in the Magisterial District Court docket sheets for Luzerne County. You’ll get a good snapshot of Sekelsky and it’s not a pretty picture.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has guidelines for hiring a contractor and accepts complaints from consumers who feel they have been ripped off. I’ll be talking to them this week about Sekelsky, so don’t touch that dial. See you next week.
Reach Christine Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.