Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a consumer protection lawsuit Wednesday against the operators of Ashley Contractors LLC, a former home improvement and construction company in Granger Township.
The lawsuit, filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, seeks reimbursement for consumers and an injunction to prevent any further violations of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act, or CSPA.
Consumers alleged they paid Ashley Contractors thousands of dollars for home remodeling projects in Cuyahoga and Medina counties, among others, that they never received, according to court documents.
After making deposits for kitchen, bath or basement renovations, consumers said Ashley Contractors either did no work or did only partial, shoddy work.
Reported consumer losses total more than $82,000.
The attorney general’s lawsuit accuses Ashley Nihiser, owner, and Brian K. Stepp, president, both doing business as Ashley Contractors LLC, 968 Remsen Road, Granger Township, of failing to deliver goods and/or services or issue refunds, and performing substandard work.
The company, which was registered with the secretary of state’s office in 2015, dissolved April 4, 2017.
“Many contractors do great work, but there are some operators who take a customer’s money and do little or none of the work they were paid to do,” DeWine said in a statement.
“We’re taking this action to protect consumers.”
Nihiser’s last known address is listed as 968 Remsen Road. Stepp’s last known address is the Morgantown (W.Va.) Kennedy Center, a federal correctional institute.
Stepp, 51, of Medina, was sentenced Oct. 16, 2017, to seven years in prison for stealing $245,000 from his employer and using the money to pay for a country club membership, vehicles and purchases at Victoria’s Secret, law enforcement officials said.
Earlier in 2017, Stepp pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements on loan applications, according to federal court records.
He was indicted in 2016 on 22 federal counts.
“This defendant is a serial fraudster who caused a business to close and 80 employees to lose their jobs,” U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman said in a statement last year.
“He used this company’s coffers as his own personal bank.”
Stepp worked at Variety Contractors Inc., a company based in Medina County that provided general contracting services for large public and commercial retail construction projects in Ohio and elsewhere.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, DeWine asks Common Pleas Judge Kelly Ann Gallagher to issue a declaratory judgment against Ashley Contractors saying
- that it violates the CSPA;
- to issue a permanent injunction against engaging in any further violations of the CSPA;
- to get full restitution for all customers or award other appropriate damages;
- and to impose civil penalties in the amount of $25,000 for each separate and appropriate violation.
DeWine offered consumers the following recommendations to help avoid home improvement scams:
- Research home-improvement contractors carefully before hiring them. Check for complaints filed by other consumers, review business filings with the Ohio secretary of state, conduct internet searches, check court websites for legal action, and talk to past customers to learn about their experiences with a contractor.
- Get multiple estimates. For a large job, consider getting estimates from several different companies.
- Be wary of requests for large down payments. It’s reasonable for a contractor to require a down payment, but be skeptical if you’re asked to make a large down payment (such as half or more of the total cost) before any work begins. If possible, pay in increments as the work is completed;
- Consumers who suspect an unfair or deceptive sales practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at OhioProtects.org or (800) 282-0515.