April 18, 2006
St. Charles, Mo. — The owner of a St. Charles home repair business who collected substantial down payments for projects he never completed, failed to refund the money to consumers, and charged personal expenses to the credit cards of his customers will pay more than $49,000 in total restitution under a court order obtained today by Attorney General Jay Nixon.
The consent order, filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court, requires Paul McElrath, owner of Amazing Plumbing, to pay restitution to 27 victims, in amounts ranging from 4150 to $5,835. The victims lived in the St. Charles, St. Louis and Springfield areas. McElrath, who sometimes went by the alias "A.J. Hoffman," also ran businesses under the names A.J.Hoffman and Sons, Allegiant Plumbing, Advantage Plumbing, Drain-a-way Sewer and Drain Busters Plumbing, Sewer and Drain.
Nixon said McElrath engaged in a pattern of fraud in which he would agree to perform home repair services, including convincing some that they needed repairs that were not necessary. He would demand down payments for the services, and fail to provide refunds when he did not complete the home repair project.
McElrath also allegedly charged his personal expenses to the credit cards of some of his customers, falsely promising to refund the unauthorized charges to those consumers. In one instance, he received the credit card account number from one of his customers to pay for plumbing repairs in the amount of $3,250, but then used the customer's account to charge over $5,800, which included personal expenses.
"Home repair fraud is consistently one of the most frequent consumer complaints we receive in my office," said Nixon. "Consumers should be wary of the familiar pattern that most of these scams take, where the homeowner has to pay either the entire amount or a substantial portion up front and then receives either shoddy work or no work at all."
The permanent injunction from the St.Charles County Circuit Court prohibits McElrath from future violations of Missouri consumer protection laws.
In addition to the $49,225 in consumer restitution to his 27 victims, McElrath must pay another $1,500 to the state for all investigative and litigation costs in the case.
Nixon suggests that all homeowners remember the following concerning home repair:
Consumer who have questions or problems with a particular business can contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline by calling 1-800-392-8222 or visiting www.ago.mo.gov.