News10NBC Investigates: Contractor Horror Stories: What to do when police can’t help

Deanna Dewberry
Updated: February 25, 2020 11:24 PM
Created: February 25, 2020 10:43 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Three different viewers recently contacted News10NBC with complaints about the same contractor.  

In each case, the customer lost thousands, but police told each customer the cases weren’t crimes.  

What’s a consumer to do? In this exclusive investigation, News10NBC’s Deanna Dewberry got some answers.

For decades, The Beverage Center on West Ridge Road was a Gates staple.  

After it recently closed, GraceAnn Stulpin bought it, changed the name, and planned to spruce it up for a grand re-opening.  

She hired contractor Scott Pepson.

"I thought I was getting an epoxy floor," Stulpin said as looked down at the floor that Pepson claimed looked “awesome.”

Pepson was also supposed to tile the kitchen and bathroom as well as paint the interior of the building.  

Stulpin says Pepson charged her $6,400 and wanted half up front. 

So she wrote him one check for $3,200 and another for $537 dollars for paint.  

She says he wanted the checks made out to himself.

That was the first red flag.  

Experts at the Better Contractor’s Bureau warn state business law requires contractors to put your payment in an escrow account, which should be in the name of his business, not his personal account.  

Then Stulpin saw the floor. She was angry. She says there was rough uneven concrete, big visible cracks, and the floor was painted.

"I said I don't like it at all," Stulpin said.

According to every expert News10NBC consulted, Pepson’s work on Stulpin’s floor was not two-part epoxy flooring.
In fact, Pepson acknowledged to News10NBC he used a water-based paint that has a tiny bit of added epoxy.  

But an epoxy coating is not paint.  

An epoxy floor is a two-part system of resins and hardeners. The combination activates and cures to form a tough plastic floor covering at least 2 millimeters thick.  

"This is not an epoxy floor. This is not what I paid them for," Stulpin said.

And it’s certainly not what Scott Pepson promised in his written contract with Stulpin, which specifies two-part epoxy.

"I asked for my money back,” Stulpin said. “He said, ‘I can pay you with Paypal. I can pay you with Venmo. I can give you a certified check.’"

But Stulpin says Pepson never showed up. She says she had to pay another contractor $8,000 to clean up the mess and do the job right. Stulpin is not alone.

In a News10NBC investigation three years ago, 82-year Olive Owens said, like Stulpin, Pepson did part of the work then abandoned the job.  

She paid him $5,000 up front for a new roof.

"They would come, put the ladder up, and within an hour, a half hour they were gone," Owens said.

She says he disappeared in August of 2017.

In April of 2018, Penn Yan resident Debby Morlok says she paid him more than $3,800 for home repairs. She says he did part of the work, left a mess, and never came back.

A year later, Rochester residents Ben and Julia Rawlins hired someone who called himself Scott Adam. 

They paid him $7,500. 

But their canceled check revealed the truth.

Scott Adam was actually Scott Adam Pepson.

The couple says Pepson wrote his real last name on their check, didn't finish the work, and wouldn't return their money.

In every case, the customers called their local police departments.

"Police say there's nothing they can do about it because it's a civil matter," Carmen Santora, Executive Director of the Better Contractors Bureau, said.

Santora says that's because Pepson had started the work, making a criminal case of theft hard to prove. 

So News10NBC’s Deanna Dewberry called Scott Pepson.  

He insisted he had done a good job and owed Stulpin nothing.  

He said she got what she paid for, and insisted he was the victim because of News10NBC’s investigations.  

He blamed News10NBC for his bad online reputation.

But our investigations are not the only things you find in an online search of Scott Pepson’s businesses.  

The Better Business Bureau gave him an F rating because eight customers complained he took their money, started the work, and never finished. 

And his criminal record shows convictions for burglary, bad checks, DWI, petit larceny, and a grand larceny charge he pled down to petit larceny last month.

But he insisted his crimes were in the past, and he has many happy customers. 

He agreed to an on-camera interview with Dewberry, but the next day he canceled via text.  

"One of the things that people need to do if they believe they're the victims of fraud, they have to file a complaint with the attorney general's office," Ben Bruce, Assistant Attorney General in the Rochester regional office, said.  

He says that’s the one thing consumers often forget to do.   

"There's been sometimes when we've started action based on a single complaint if it's something systemic,” Bruce said.

That's because the Attorney General’s office can collect complaints across our area and identify a contractor with a pattern of complaints, unlike local law enforcement, who only investigate complaints in their jurisdiction, and may be unaware of complaints in other cities and counties.  

The Attorney General can take civil action against the contractor or seek restitution for consumers through mediation.

As for Stulpin, she now has a beautiful epoxy floor, but it cost her thousands more than it should have.

"I'm upset at myself because I'm smarter than that,” she said tearfully. “And it shouldn't have happened."

But she's speaking out now in the hope that it doesn't happen to anyone else.

Stulpin has filed a lawsuit against Pepson in small claims court.  Her case is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 28.  

She also filed a complaint with the AG’s office.  

As for Pepson, he was arrested for grand larceny in Ontario County last year, and was allowed to plead to petit larceny only after agreeing to pay back the two customers in that case. 

He’ll be sentenced in that case on Feb. 27.

Before you hire a contractor, here’s Deanna’s Do list:

  1. Get at least three bids.
  2. Do a background check, like checking the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
  3. Ask for proof of insurance.
  4. Get a written contract. The Better Contractors Bureau has provided an example of what it should look like.
  5. Never pay full price up front. The BBB suggests paying a third up front, a third in the middle, and a third at completion.
  6. Report problems to the BBB, the Attorney General’s Office or the Better Contractors Bureau.

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