A home improvement contractor from Smithtown pleaded guilty on May 31 to scamming Hurricane Sandy victims across Nassau and Suffolk counties out of more than $100,000.
Lee Moser, 49, pleaded guilty before Acting Supreme Court Justice Robert Bogle to third-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheme to defraud. He is due back in court on July 12, and is expected to be sentenced to 45 days in jail and five years of probation if he pays $50,000 in restitution to NY Rising, with the remaining amount to be paid over the course of his probation. If he does not pay restitution, he could face up to a year in jail.
Moser owned Capstone Realty Holdings Inc., and did business as Capstone Remodeling, based in Smithtown. NY Rising is a state program, run by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, that helps homeowners impacted by natural disasters. They received money from the program to rehabilitate their homes after Hurricane Sandy damaged them on Oct. 29, 2012.
“Sandy savaged our communities, and contractors who defraud those who suffered from the storm’s wrath are especially despicable,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a news release. “This unscrupulous defendant took his victims’ money to help them rebuild, regaled them with excuses for delay, and never performed the work. My office will continue to aggressively prosecute crooked contractors and hold them accountable for their crimes.”
GOSR spokeswoman Catie Marshall lauded Singas for her diligence in pursuing the case on behalf of taxpayers and Moser’s victims, and ex-plained how the restitution would be allocated. “All money refunded to NY Rising will be used for disaster recovery,” Marshall said in an email to the Herald.
Moser was arrested by the Suffolk County Police Department on Oct. 13, 2017, in Riverhead, and charged with grand larceny and scheme to defraud. On Dec. 19, he turned himself in to the Nassau D.A.’s office and appeared before a judge to face charges that included five counts of third-degree grand larceny, first-degree scheme to defraud and two counts of operating a home-improvement business without a license. At the time, he told Judge Paul Meli that he would pay back the homeowners.
Among those who said they paid Moser were Bay Park residents Andrew and Christine Polizzi, of West Fulton Street, and Christine’s parents, Donna and Vincent Prisciandaro, who live on Sperry Street. In an exclusive Herald story last June, titled “Hurricane horrors: Sandy victims say they paid tens of thousands for work that contractors never did,” the Polizzis and Prisciandaros said they filed complaints against Moser with the Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs, alleging that he received payments from them to raise their homes and never completed the work.
Donna Prisciandaro said she put down a $27,150 deposit in April 2015 to have her home elevated, but the construction never began. She also showed the Herald copies of the contract and checks given to Moser’s company. Eventually, another contractor raised her home, but it remained untouched for 11 months after the work stopped.
The Polizzis said they gave $180,000 to Capstone to raise their home, but the company stopped paying its subcontractors — and they halted work on the house in the middle of the job. Andrew Polizzi said the subcontractors hit him with $50,000 in liens, and he provided the Herald with a copy of one lien for $29,000.
Polizzi said he was pleased to see some justice. “I’m very happy and very satisfied on how it worked out,” he said. “I like the end results.” He said his house still needs work, but he and Christine completed much of it through NY Rising’s hardship program. He noted that the Prisciandaros are also slowly getting their house in order, but neither family has received any restitution from Moser.
“It’s just stage by stage,” Polizzi said of the work. “That’s the only way to work. We’re getting there slowly, but we’ll get it done, and we always think positive.”
They were not the only victims. According to Singas, from April 2015 to August 2016, Moser signed contracts with five Nassau County homeowners to perform work on their homes, which had been severely damaged by Sandy. In most of the cases, the homeowners wrote Moser down payment checks with NY Rising funds, made payable to Capstone Remodeling. Instead of performing the work as promised, Moser made excuses as to why the work had not started, Singas said, including that he was in the hospital or caring for his sick mother.
In total, he is accused of stealing $113,485. Moser spent the money on gasoline, restaurants, telephone service and other expenditures to continue running his business, unrelated to the homeowners’ contracts, Singas said. Consumer Affairs sent complaints from the five victims to Singas’s office between June 2016 and April 2017, which led to an investigation.
To date, Moser, whose license has been revoked, has not repaid any of the funds. Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Contreras, of Singas’s Financial Crimes Bureau, is prosecuting this case. Moser is represented by attorney Brian Trodden.