UPDATE: TN Valley contractor indicted by grand jury following 3 On Your Side story
UPDATE: A Tennessee Valley contractor accused of stealing money from his clients has been indicted by a grand jury.
Shawn Kertesz has been indicted on two counts of unlawful action by home improvement services provider.
He is due in court on March 22.
PREVIOUS STORY: We are hearing from a local home improvement contractor, accused of stealing money from his clients.
Shawn Kertesz was taken into custody Wednesday morning after a 3 on Your Side investigation.
His attorney said his client is not a criminal and wants to make things right with the people who continue coming forward claiming they are victims.
"He knows that there's a lot of people upset and rightfully so," Kertesz's attorney Jeremy Jones said.
Jones said his client, Shawn Kertesz, is sorry for not finishing home improvement jobs he's promised to.
He sat down with us after a Channel 3 investigation revealed nearly a dozen complaints from people who say Kertesz scammed them out of money.
Some have resulted in criminal charges.
Jones said his client never intended to break the law and doesn't believe he has.
"He's simply underbid a lot of these prices. He's gotten in over his head. That certainly doesn't make it better for these people that don't have the work done that he promised," Jones said.
Jones said his client is new to pricing and the unknowns that come with a home remodel and that's the reason for underbidding the cost of his work.
"One person he gave a bid to was about $1,100. As it turned out, it was a much bigger job than he thought and he thought he was doing the right thing by trying to continue to work on it and try to get things done," Jones added.
Jones said Kertesz is willing to work with his clients by finishing the work he promised or offering refunds.
Channel 3 confirmed a judge ordered Kertesz to refund one client in Bradley County $4,000 after a civil suit was filed.
"As this snowballs, the longer it will take for him to get caught back up," Jones said.
We also asked Jones about claims that Kertesz was saying he was insured when he wasn't. He told us, it was a mistake and that his insurance has been reinstated.
"It had expired. He had worked to have it reinstated. I don't think he was aware that it had expired. But I think it's a stretch to call it fraudulent documentation," he said.
Now it will be up to judges in Chattanooga, Cleveland and Dalton to decide what happens next in cases spanning several counties.
Kertesz is being held at the Hamilton County Jail on a $50,000 bond.
A judge in Dalton is expected to decide Thursday if there's enough evidence to support a criminal charge there.
Kertesz will appear before a judge on the Hamilton County charges on December 5th.
PREVIOUS UPDATE: More victims are coming forward saying a local contractor took their money and didn't perform a job as promised.
After airing a Channel 3 investigation, we've learned there are victims from Cleveland all the way down to Dalton.
Angela Borgogna has turned into her own investigator and is taking matters into her own hands to make sure no one goes through her situation.
She said she hired Shawn Kertesz in August to do work on her home. She said she paid him $1,650. Kertesz came and did some of it but disappeared.
"I could not find any business license. Insurance told me he hadn't had any insurance since January. He came in with false pretenses in order to get the job," she said.
Borgogna used Facebook to warn others and found out she's not the only victim.
Now, she's turned into her own investigator, connecting cases from Bradley County all the way into North Georgia.
Several people contacted Channel 3 after airing our investigation into Kertesz, saying they were victims too but didn't know how to go about reporting what happened.
There are a couple different ways you can file a police report.
You can call your local law enforcement's non-emergency line or go to the department in person and say you want to file a report.
Officer Trevor Tomas with the Chattanooga Police Department said it's important to bring identification and any documentation you have with you.
"Whether it's a contract, text messages or e-mails. That kind of thing. And be prepared to tell the officer in as much detail what's going on," Tomas added.
Local attorney Zack England said he recommends filing a police report because it's the first piece of the puzzle when getting ready to take a case through the court system.
"You get to identify who is involved, who may still be out there. But more importantly, if it's a dispute, who the officer sided with or what he determined based on the testimony or conversations with the parties," England said.
While Borgogna waits for her day in court, she supports others who are in the same boat and wants to make sure others don't fall victim.
"Make sure that if someone hands you insurance, that you call and actually validate it. A business license. Because it could be fraudulent," she said.
Kertesz was supposed to appear in court on Tuesday in Hamilton County, but it was passed to Wednesday, where it was discovered he also has a warrant.
A judge in Whitfield County is expected to decide if another case will move forward later this week.
Channel 3 reached out to Kertesz to get his side of the story, but we have not heard back.
Stay with the WRCB app for updates to this story.
ORIGINAL STORY: When Clarissa Ammons and her husband needed a new retaining wall outside their home, they thought Shawn Kertesz would be perfect for the job.
"At that time, he said 'I've been pricing materials and I have a friend that can deliver the ties, and I will need half down,'" she said.
Ammons wrote a check for $1,250. Kertesz promised to show up the following weekend to start the project. That was in August.
"It didn't feel comfortable to us that the check had cleared, but he didn't show up," Ammons said.
First came the excuses, Ammons said, and then communication stopped completely.
"Here we are, now still with the work incomplete and realizing Mr. Kertesz is not a man of his word," she added.
Now, Kertesz is charged in the case.
A Channel 3 investigation found Ammons isn't the only victim.
Four other people have filed complaints against Kertesz through the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and the Better Business Bureau.
We wanted to hear Kertesz's side of the story, so we stopped by his home in Apison.
He wasn't there and our messages haven't been returned.
Jim Winsett, who is President of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga said Ammons could have avoided a lot of the headache if she had done one thing.
"These type of people are out there, and you have to do your due diligence and your research to make sure you're doing business with someone who is reputable," Winsett said.
Ammons agrees, and she hopes sharing her story will prevent others from going through the same experience.
"It was just too good to be true. The prices were so low," she said. "We didn't look at him being a licensed contractor."
Whenever you hire anyone to do work around your home, the Better Business Bureau suggests following these 11 steps:
- Research and gather information. You can search for a contractor’s Business Profile at BBB.org to get free information on their history of complaints, read verified Customer Reviews, and see if they are an Accredited Business. BBB Accredited Businesses make a commitment to uphold BBB's accreditation standards including: to build trust, advertise honestly, tell the truth, be transparent, honor their promises, be responsive to their customers, safeguard privacy and embody integrity. Also search for the name of the company online along with "Complaint", "Review" or "Scam" to find different results. Ask the company if employees and sub-contractors undergo a background check. Are they trained and certified? What identification will they show when they come to your home?
- Ask for references. Ask the contractor for a list of recent local references you may contact. Ask the references about the services performed and their overall experience with the contractor and the quality of the work. Ask if the contractor stuck to the estimated budget and completion date for the project. If possible, inspect the contractor's work yourself. Ask if the contractor is a member of a professional association that has standards or a code of ethics.
- Ask for multiple quotes. You should always shop around and get at least three quotes from different businesses. Make sure all bids consider the same set of criteria. Remember that the lowest bid may not necessarily be the best bid; if one bid is significantly lower than the others, the contractor may be cutting corners or may not understand your work requirements.
- Get it in writing. Always get estimates in writing and never let any work begin without a written and signed contract. Do not be pressured into signing an agreement before you are ready and make sure you read and understand everything before signing. The contract should include contact information, start and complete dates, a detailed description of the exact work to be done, any material costs, payment arrangements, and warranty information. Specify who is to obtain necessary building permits and who is responsible for clean-up. Make sure all verbal promises are included in the contract. Ask how much work will be subcontracted and ask for information on the subcontractors. Ask questions if you do not understand any part of the contract. Never sign an incomplete or partially blank contract.
- Verify license and insurance. Always be sure that the company you decide to work with has the necessary licenses and insurance to work in your region. In the United States, you can get to your state’s licensing agency to learn more here. In Canada, requirements differ from province to province, so make sure to search for information specific to yours. Your local BBB can help. Once you have your contractor’s insurance information, call the carrier to confirm appropriate coverage for worker’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability in case of accidents.
- Confirm building permits. Your contractor must have the correct permits before starting your project. They will usually obtain the permits, but you will probably pay for them. That should be detailed in your contract. Request that all final inspections be completed by the local building official prior to final payment.
- Inquire about a lien waiver. A lien waiver, in the United States, is a statement from your contractor that says all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work. In some Canadian provinces, there is a mandatory Builders Lien holdback, so ensure you understand any financial obligations you may be liable for.
- Think about future service issues. Make sure you are aware of your warranty coverage and how to deal with service issues.
- Arrange a payment schedule. Never pay in full up front. Stagger your payments so your final payment is not due until the work is complete and you have fully inspected it. Do not pay cash; make sure your check is written to a company, not an individual, or that you use a credit card. Paying with a credit card will provide some recourse should the job not be completed as stated in the contract.
- Get a receipt. Request a receipt marked “Paid in Full” when the job is completed and your final payment made.
- Keep your contract. Hold on to your contract for future reference or if any questions arise after the work is complete.
To file a complaint with the BBB, visit their website.
To file a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, visit TDCI's website.
Kertesz is due in court on November 27th.