On Your Side: Landscaping Lawsuits

By: Stephanie Baker
By: Stephanie Baker

September 13, 2006

A Columbia County woman says she paid contractors to landscape her yard, and they took off with her money.

A News 12 investigation finds this isn't the first time people say these contractors have taken off with their money.

Norma Custodio says the contractors asked for half the money up front, started the job, and now she's out over $40,000.

Now, she's taking them to court, and our investigation shows in the past ten years, thirteen other people have done the same.

Supplies left behind...projects unfinished. Norma Custodio says her back yard looks worse now than it did a year ago, before she paid contractor Joe Floyd thousands up front to make this a place where her child could play.

"They took advantage of us, and that breaks my heart," Custodio told News 12.

She tried to call him and reach him by mail, but no answer. Court records show Floyd moved five times in recent years, making it hard to find him. After months of silence, Norma contacted attorney Jason Troino to file a lawsuit.

"He showed up a couple of times, did a very small amount of work, and after a couple of weeks just disappeared."

We tried to contact Floyd as well. We saw someone peeking through the blinds, but no one came to answer the door.

Our investigation finds other claims in the past ten years totaling over $30,000. But court records show Floyd tried to file bankruptcy six times, and so far hasn't been required to pay a dime in old debts.

And Norma's problems don't stop here.

Court records show Steve Ericson, the second contractor she hired, has claims totaling over $50,000. Custodio says the roughly $30,000 she paid him didn't buy her much, and she wants her money back.

"We're shutting down," Ericson told News 12. "I'm reimbursing her for the money she spent, and that's about the end of it."

Norma says that like Floyd, Ericson went months without showing up...

"It was one excuse after another, and pretty soon the weeks turned into months, and that's how we got to this point."

For Norma, tens of thousands of dollars bought a back yard full of unfinished business.

The district attorney's office tells us there could be grounds for a criminal investigation. We gave Custodio their contact information yesterday afternoon.

We talked to another contractor today who says getting referrals is a good way to ensure you aren't scammed. Any contractor should keep you updated every other day, so if you don't hear anything, that could be a warning sign.

If you live in Columbia County and want advice on good contractors, dial 311 and they will put you in touch with the proper department.

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