More Sandy victims say contractor scammed them

State, County to investigate claims


Mary Ellen Leonsky, of Wantagh, said she thinks she and her husband are more fortunate than many of the other 37 families who say they were scammed by the same contractor hired to elevate their homes.

Cody Lawrence, of Turnkey Contractor Solutions, took $92,000 in payments from the Leonskys, and left them with costly repairs and an unfinished job that prevents them from returning home. But they, at least, have rental assistance and a place to live while they figure out how to resolve the issues with their home, Leonsky said.

Turnkey, formerly of Bay Shore, elevated their house on Bayview Avenue in July 2017. A new, higher foundation was built, and it was lowered down onto it that October. But their sewer line was cracked somewhere along the way, and when they confronted Lawrence about it, the rest of the work on their house stopped.

They are one of 36 open complaints filed against Turnkey this year with the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs, which licenses contractors. Online records show that there were two complaints against the company from 2017 that were closed. Each complaint represents a home in varying stages of disrepair, and homeowners who paid Turnkey thousands of dollars to raise their homes to protect them against future storm damage.

Turnkey’s home improvement license has been suspended by the Office of Consumer Affairs, and most of the homeowners were referred to the Nassau County district attorney’s office and New York Rising — an agency created after Hurricane Sandy to help flood victims rebuild their homes. Turnkey’s Long Island offices, meanwhile, have closed.

The state steps in

A spokeswoman from the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, which oversees New York Rising, said late Friday that the office had hired an investigator “who is working with our partners in law enforcement and with those affected by this particular contractor.”

The investigator is reviewing hardship applications filed by homeowners who believe they were victims of fraud by Turnkey, state officials said.

“We have received a large number of complaints about this contractor, and those matters are currently are being reviewed to determine whether or not there is evidence of criminality,” said Miriam Sholder, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Madeline Singas. “The reviews by the Nassau County district attorney include lengthy in-person interviews with each of the complainants.”

On its website, GOSR states that it does not recommend contractors to individuals, nor does it maintain a list of “approved” contractors. It does maintain a list of vendors who have met minimum qualifications and were thus deemed eligible to bid on other GOSR projects. Several of Turnkey’s victims who have spoken to the Herald said that the fact that the company was on that list bolstered their confidence in it.

The Leonskys said that when they signed a contract with Lawrence in April 2017, he showed them a glossy flier that boasted about work his company had done for NY Rising and other government “grant programs” in other states.

GOSR spokeswoman Catie Marshall added that the office “did not and does not have a direct relationship with this firm, and no GOSR funds have been distributed to it.”

Today, the Leonskys are still not back in their home. Their driveway was all but destroyed in the elevation process, and now has a large crater. There are no front steps by which to enter the house. And those are the issues they know about. So far, one subcontractor Turnkey used, but didn’t pay, has put a lien on the home. Meanwhile, the couple rents an apartment in East Meadow and continues paying property taxes on their uninhabitable Wantagh home.

Mary Ellen Leonsky says she can’t believe she and Turnkey’s other victims are at this point nearly six years after Sandy devastated their homes. “We’re all middle-aged professionals,” she said. “We should be relaxing, going on vacation — not dealing with this.”

Meanwhile, in Massapequa . . .

In April 2017 — the same month the Leonskys signed a home-elevation contract with Turnkey — a Massapequa family sent a 17-page letter to Nassau Consumer Affairs detailing a complaint about critical, and costly, mistakes made by Turnkey on their home, which was renovated after Sandy.

Mia and Jerry Vogt, of Waterview Avenue, wrote that their family was worse off than they were just after Sandy. While they are back in their home, it ended up one foot lower than it was supposed to be. Turnkey never got the required inspections for the work, and a litany of related issues involving the foundation were noted in a private architect’s report. The Vogts can’t get a Certificate of Occupancy for the house.

Cody Lawrence was recommended to the Vogts in June 2016, by a neighbor whose house he was raising. They both hired Lawrence partly because he said he didn’t expect the last payment until the end of the project — when New York Rising planned to give them its last payments.

The Vogts’ house was lifted in August 2016, and brought back down onto its new, higher foundation, that October. They paid Lawrence a total of $217,594, some of which they had to borrow when Lawrence demanded the third payment sooner than planned. After they confronted him about the height issue, work on their home stopped.

In March 2017, an architect the Vogts hired noted a number of other defects on their house. He called the work that had been done on it “substandard,” and told them that because the elevation was wrong, they couldn’t get a C.O. and so wouldn’t get the remaining repair money from NY Rising.

A few months later, with the Vogts’ complaint to Nassau Consumer Affairs pending, another Wantagh family signed an elevation contract with Turnkey. Last month, the Herald described their ordeal (“Sandy victims still living the nightmare,” April 12-18). Maryann and Ron Daly’s Sycamore Avenue house was raised in December but never brought down, and remains nearly 20 feet up, on pilings.

On January 31, at a hearing set after the Vogts’ complaint, Nassau Consumer Affairs suspended Lawrence’s license and directed him to take down his business website.

“We certainly have had our share of hardship and upheaval over the past four and a half years,” Mia Vogt wrote in the April 2017 letter to Consumer Affairs. “Once again we are experiencing turmoil — this time it’s the result of Turnkey Contractor Solutions.”

Lawrence’s attorney could not be reached for comment.