A home contractor in Maryland is accused of taking more than $600,000 from homeowners across the state, only to abandon the work he promised to do, according to documents obtained by the News4 I-Team.
Maryland's Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) suspended the contractor's license for Prompt Restoration indefinitely. The News4 I-Team first reported about the company in May after getting complaints from homeowners.
Since then, more homeowners have come forward to say they also felt cheated -- including Debra Battista of Glen Echo. She said she hired Prompt Restoration to renovate her house last year after a fire tore through the first and second floors.
But six months after the fire, and after a payment of $63,000 to the company, very little work had been done, according to Battista.
"We hired an independent inspector who came in, and he wrote up a report in thorough detail about everything that had been done," Battista said. "He concluded the house was basically 10 percent finished after all those months."
Battista took her complaint to MHIC, which confirmed her case is among at least a dozen under investigation. MHIC didn't give the I-Team specifics on her case but did provide details on four other cases.
According to a consent order agreed to between Prompt Restoration and MHIC, a woman whose house burned down in Upper Marlboro in 2014 paid more than $45,000 for work abandoned "without justification" by Prompt Restoration and its president, Jim Martin.
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Identical narratives mentioning other fire survivors -- in Springdale, Fort Washington and Bethesda, paying amounts upwards of $96,000, $299,000 and $166,000 for abandoned jobs -- are also laid out in the consent order.
Martin signed the order, in which he agrees that his license suspension is "proper" based on those complaints. The order also prevents him from entering into any new home improvement contracts and states he could face criminal and/or civil penalties for doing so.
The I-Team repeatedly reached out to Martin and his company for a response. While he didn't answer questions about his license suspension, his lawyer previously told us: "Prompt Restoration had clients that never paid the company ... which led to an immediate cash flow crunch" and the company "wanted to do the right thing by entering bankruptcy to recover the money and pay its debts."
Prompt Restoration filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February.
Like other homeowners who spoke to the I-Team, Battista said she must go to court to get back just a fraction of what she says she lost. She hired attorney Rene Sandler, who said she's seen plenty of other companies failing to keep their end of a bargain, but she still calls Battista's case unusual.
"This is an educated, intelligent, self-sufficient woman, and this happened to her," Sandler said of Battista. "I have never seen a case where an individual ... just shows up on their doorstep at the most vulnerable time after a fire loss and proceeds to take their money."
Battista and Sandler are also hoping to recover some money from a special state fund for cases just like hers, though the amount available is limited. But Battista also said it's about more than getting her money back.
"I hope the truth is revealed about everything," Battista said, "and that justice is served so that he doesn't hurt anybody else.”
Reported by Tisha Thompson, produced by Ashley Brown, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.