If you think the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General protects you from crooked home improvement contractors, think again. As far as I can tell, its Bureau of Consumer Protection is a cruel joke on consumers.
Recently, I received an email from Dyann Wasilewski, of Plains Township, who last fall handed over $5,000 to John Krochmaluk, owner of Wyoming Valley Masonry, to repair a retaining wall at her mom’s house in Wilkes Barre.
Krochmaluk never did the repair. Instead, he demolished the wall, hauled away the stone, excavated and then jackhammered the edges of the sidewalk, leaving behind a muddy, slippery mess that worried Wasilewski’s mom and caused a neighbor to slip and fall.
Luckily, the neighbor wasn’t hurt, says Wasilewski.
“Krochmaluk told my mom, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll have this done by Christmas.’”
Wasilewski says, since then, all she’s gotten from Krochmaluk are phony promises in early January and a bucket truck left on the property March 7.
The attorney general’s “Home Improvement Consumer Information” page shows Krochmaluk has a current contractor registration and insurance policy. So far, so good. I clicked on Krochmaluk’s name.
Criminal offenses related to a home improvement transaction? No.
A crime involving fraudulent business practices? No. Fraud? No. Theft? No. Crime of Deception? No.
That means Krochmaluk is clean as a whistle, right? Safe to hire and good to go?
Wrong. While the attorney general’s office tells consumers they can “check additional criminal and civil background” on the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal,” those folks in Harrisburg apparently don’t heed their own advice.
Court records show Krochmaluk has three active, separate criminal cases pending in Luzerne County – charged with passing bad checks, theft and taking advance payment for services he failed to perform.
He also has a slew of civil cases, thousands of dollars in unpaid judgments and closed criminal cases accusing him of passing bad checks, theft and fraud.
As if that’s not bad enough, here’s the kicker: Guess who filed a civil complaint against Krochmaluk and Wyoming Valley Masonry last year, alleging unfair and deceptive practices and numerous willful violations of consumer protection laws?
The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, that’s who. The lawsuit, filed in February, asks for thousands in restitution and penalties, as well as an injunction to stop Krochmaluk from doing home improvement work in Pennsylvania.
A default judgment was granted in November. That means the attorney general won because Krochmaluk didn’t show up. Why should he care? The judgment didn’t stipulate monetary penalties or restitution and his state contractor registration remains active.
Think about that. You go to the attorney general’s website to look up a contractor registration and it’s all clear. You are not told the attorney general has sued that contractor to stop him from doing business in Pennsylvania.
I contacted the attorney general’s office, asking how many consumer complaints they’ve received about Krochmaluk and Wyoming Valley Masonry. I also asked exactly what purpose the lawsuit and judgment served and how the Bureau of Consumer Protection protects Pennsylvania consumers against crooks.
Speaking of which, I also requested an update on the attorney general’s “investigation” of Joe Sekelsky, owner of Sekelsky Plumbing and Heating, whose soulless escapades I’ve been writing about for a couple months now.
So far, I haven’t heard back. Wasilewski is furious nobody has stopped Krochmaluk, who took her money and left her mom in a lurch.
“Why weren’t his feet put to the fire?” she wonders. “Nobody enforces the law.”
As she deals with anger and bewilderment, Wasilewski is also sad. Her mom had a heart attack and died Christmas morning.
Reach Christine Young at email@example.com.