Hurricane horrors

Sandy victims say they paid tens of thousands for work that contractors never did

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Hurricane season started on June 1, and for many residents across the South Shore, it brings back haunting memories of the damage Hurricane Sandy left in its wake. Nearly five years afterward, many local homeowners are still recovering — emotionally and financially.

Andrew and Christine Polizzi, who live on West Fulton Street in Bay Park, and Christine’s parents, Donna and Vincent Prisciandaro, who live on nearby Sperry Street, are among the homeowners from across Nassau and Suffolk counties who allege that they gave tens of thousands of dollars to a contractor for work that he never performed. And in 2016, they filed complaints with the Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs against Lee Moser, the owner of Smithtown-based Capstone Remodeling.

“The Nassau County Home Improvement license for this company was suspended by the Office of Consumer Affairs in April of 2016,” said Consumer Affairs Commissioner Madalyn Farley. “There are 13 complaints and 23 violations filed against this company. The office has referred matters related to this company to the district attorney for possible criminal prosecution.” Consumer Affairs suspended Moser’s license. Miriam Sholder, the deputy communications director for the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, said officials are still reviewing the allegations. Six calls seeking comment from Moser were not returned.

Prisciandaro said she spent $300,000 to repair her home from flood damage after Sandy and, not wanting to do that again, opted to have her house raised by a company named Ducky Johnson Home Elevations. “Everything was ruined,” she said about the damage. “Wires, plumbing, everything was gutted out of the house.”

According to Prisciandaro, a Ducky Johnson employee named William “Mims” Deriso contracted Capstone. Prisciandaro said she paid Blair Rocchio, a man who she said claimed to be the owner of Capstone, a $27,150 deposit to start the work in April 2015. “That’s how he got everyone,” Prisciandaro said, showing a copy of the contract and check.

She said she later learned that Rocchio was not the owner, but worked as a salesman for Capstone, which was actually owned by Moser. Requests for comment from Rocchio were not returned as of press time.

Prisciandaro said there were delays in starting the project because she had difficulty getting her plans approved by the Town of Hempstead.

In the meantime, Christine and Andrew contacted Capstone to begin fixing up and elevating their home, and temporarily moved into an apartment attached to Prisciandaro’s house with their daughters, Adrianna, 14, and Isabella, 11. Capstone subcontracted other companies to perform the work, Andrew said. He noted that one of the companies began gutting his house and damaged his air-conditioning unit, a boiler, his plumbing and windows — all of which were new because they were replaced after Sandy.

According to Andrew, he gave Capstone $180,000 for the work, but the company stopped paying the subcontractors. As a result, the companies pulled out of his house in the middle of the job, and Capstone boarded up the doors to his home, which was inhabitable.

“I couldn’t get in the house,” Andrew said. “I was crying like a baby because I’ve got my whole family. It was a disaster.” He added that he was also hit with $50,000 in liens from the subcontractors. He provided a copy of one lien for $29,000.

Prisciandaro said that shortly after Capstone pulled out of her daughter’s house, she contacted Moser because her plans were approved. She said that Moser kept putting her off, and Ducky Johnson ended its relationship with Capstone because Moser owed the company money. Around that time, Prisciandaro said she started hearing that other homeowners from Nassau and Suffolk counties — including an elderly couple in Long Beach — had similar issues with Capstone.

David Ramroop, from Amityville, said he also gave Moser money for work that was never done on his home. He then made connections with other homeowners who allege Moser also took their money and ran. The Suffolk and Nassau County district attorneys offices are still reviewing the cases, he said.

Prisciandaro said she was left with $161,000 of the $200,000 given to her by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery. She said she gave $95,000 to another contractor appointed by Deriso to raise her home. After lifting her house on stilts, Prisciandaro said, the contractor told her he did not have enough money to install the foundation because Deriso took the money from him. Deriso, meanwhile, said the contractor had the money. Prisciandaro’s home remained suspended in the air for 11 months. To remove the house from stilts and finish the foundation, Prisciandaro said she had to borrow money from her daughter, Linda Bracken, who lives in Lynbrook. Prisciandaro said the money came from her grandson’s college fund, and she will have to pay it back by September 2018 when he starts school.

According to Prisciandaro, she later learned that Deriso was let go from Ducky Johnson and had misrepresented himself. Requests for comment from Deriso were not returned as of press time. A representative of Ducky Johnson did not wish to speak on the issue.

“The storm has brought nothing but hardship to us,” Prisciandaro said. “I have been fighting since the storm. … We’re so tired of paperwork. Fighting New York Rising, fighting the Town of Hempstead — all I’ve done in five years is nothing but fight.”

Prisciandaro declined to give the name of the second contractor because Consumer Affairs helped her track him down, and he is currently paying her $400 per week. Prisciandaro noted, however, that he could only afford to pay her less than half of what he took from her.

Prisciandaro added she was unable to afford a chairlift that her husband needs because he suffers from Parkinson’s disease. She is also battling health issues. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer in December.

The Prisciandaros and the Polizzis eventually found a contractor to finish lifting their homes. Both houses still need repairs, but they said they could not afford them after everything they have been through. They said they also could not afford lawyers. The homeowners are waiting to see whether they can acquire funding through New York Rising’s Hardship Program. For now, as hurricane season begins again, they continue to hope for justice.

“We can’t get past this,” Prisciandaro said. “We can’t move on with our lives. It’s like a cloud over our heads.”