LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It's a case involving a controversial contractor local legal experts call the most egregious they've seen. 13 Investigates found there's also a possible conflict of interest leaving customers without the backing they might expect.
End result: Cases like this toilet repair that went down the drain.
Darcy Spears: "So what, what are we looking at here? Why do you have no walls and no floors? What happened in here?"
Harry Suen: "My toilet is leaking. So I called Rooter-Man."
What happened in Harry Suen's bathroom started two years ago.
Currently, his bathroom is still torn up. When Suen wants to shower, he has to come out to the backyard and use a hose and a bowl of water to clean himself.
He can't even do laundry at home. It all started when a technician from Rooter-Man plumbing said Suen's toilet leak was just a symptom of a much larger problem.
"He says your house is old," says Suen. "Underground pipe, the pipeline is crumbled. Need to dig out, take out, change a new one."
A couple of days later, workers from Bolmer Restoration showed up at Suen's house.
"They say the water coming out your toilet is poison," says Suen.
Frightened and trusting what he thought were experts, Suen signed papers with the contractor.
"He was under the impression that he was just signing up for credit so that he can get the work started because he needs a toilet, he needs a bathtub, he needs a shower," says Suen's attorney, Peter Goatz, with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.
Goatz says they've heard from many Rooter-Man and Bolmer Restoration customers.
"And this is one of the more egregious cases that we've ever seen leaving so many victims in their wake," says Goatz.
Legal Aid Center filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging "Over the course of many years, Cat Detailing, LLC doing business as both Bolmer Restoration and Rooter-Man... acted in concert to commit statutory consumer fraud against residential homeowners, generally, and Harry in particular."
When homeowners' insurance did not pay, according to court documents filed by Legal Aid Center, they would "walk off the job site leaving the home in worse condition than before: without plumbing, walls, or covered flooring," then file a lien against the property.
The Clark County Recorders Officer recently launched the Recording Notification Service (RNS) where homeowners can sign up to receive an email alert whenever a document is recorded on their property.
Turns out, Eduardo Arredondo owns both Rooter-Man and Bolmer Restoration. Recently, he filed for bankruptcy.
Filings in the bankruptcy case show his company has more than half a million dollars in attorney liens against him, from the same lawyer he used to file liens against homeowners.
But declaring bankruptcy put up roadblocks around him as all other litigation is frozen until the bankruptcy is resolved.
"My lawsuit, actually, all the lawsuits are are, like you said, really dead in their tracks right now," says Goatz. "And we're just waiting for a resolution from the bankruptcy court as to whether any consumer that files the timely claim will receive any relief through that process."
The bond required of licensed contractors won't bring relief either, because the Nevada State Contractors Board allowed Bolmer and Rooter-Man to have bonds of just $10,000 each.
"And it would be something that we would hope that the Contractors Board would look at when licensing unproven contractors," says Goatz. "That they don't set it so low so as to preclude some recovery for these consumers."
In the wake of our investigation, the Attorney General got involved and the Contractors Board finally suspended Arredondo's license in April. They claim they didn't have enough evidence to act sooner.
But a former Bolmer employee raises questions about a possible conflict of interest. The employee agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity because he doesn't want participation in our investigation impacting his current employment.
He says Arredondo used a lawyer to assist him with homeowner complaints. An attorney who is one of three regular Administrative Law Judges with the Contractors Board. These judges make decisions on cases of contractors facing disciplinary action.
"That's how he got advance notice of Contractors Board complaints," says the former employee. "That law office would help go through them."
According to the former employee, the goal was to work out a deal to satisfy the homeowner.
"If you remedy the situation, there is no complaint," he says.
When a complaint doesn't reach the level of disciplinary action, it's kept confidential per Nevada law.
That's why the Contractors Board says it can't tell anyone how many complaints are filed against any company.
Meaning homeowners are in the dark about the track record of licensed contractors in Nevada, even though the Federal Trade Commission advises homeowners to check with state regulators for complaints about any contractor they may hire.
As for Bolmer and Rooter-Man..."Certainly their business practices don't appear to me to be above board," says Goatz. "We know that they were engaging in deceptive trade practices. Whether that was fraud or not, I can't make that call. Certainly, it's something that is very concerning and resulted in a lot of harm to a lot of consumers."
Neither Eduardo Arredondo nor his employee from Rooter-Man returned our calls for comment. The Contractors Board is expected to hear the case for his license suspension in October.
13 Investigates will keep you posted and check to see if the Residential Recovery Fund will be of any help to the affected homeowners.