Home Repair Company Takes Money, Doesn't Do The Work
By Jennifer Kraus
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Middle Tennessee has seen its fair share of bad weather this year.
After a round of storms earlier this year, one home repair company told homeowners it would take care of fixing their roofs and dealing with their insurance companies.
But NewsChannel 5 Investigates found customers who paid the company money are now several months later still waiting for their new roofs. And, it turns out, the woman running the company has a history of doing business this way.
The tornado that hit Antioch back in February did quite a number on some of the homes there.
Homeowner Marian Sherman showed NewsChannel 5 Investigates some of the damage on her roof.
"You can see the shingles missing on that little section. There's more on the other parts of the roof."
But Sherman said what happened after the storm was even worse.
Sherman recalled, "They sat here and lied to us and took advantage of us and walked away with our money, not thinking twice."
American National Insurance Construction came through her neighborhood promising to replace roofs and make other repairs.
Sherman said she paid ANIC $4,500.
But her roof today looks just as it did back in February.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Sherman, "They've done no work?"
"No work. Won't give me my money back," Sherman answered.
And at the Huttos' home just a few blocks away, Mary Hutto said, "The shingles should have been replaced."
Hutto said they paid ANIC to fix their roof. But now five months later, the only thing they've got to show for it is a couple of blue tarps.
Hutto told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, we're "very, very, very unhappy."
And they aren't the only unhappy customers. NewsChannel5 Investigates has talked with more than a dozen homeowners who say they paid ANIC hundreds, even thousands of dollars for home repair work. And, they can't get the company to come out and do it.
We asked the woman running American National Insurance Construction, "Why are you taking people's money and not doing the work on their homes?"
She answered, "I'm not doing that, wouldn't do that. I'm not that kind of person."
This is the same woman who met with customers like Marian Sherman.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Sherman, "What did she tell you her name was?"
But our investigation discovered that she's now awaiting trial on felony theft charges in Illinois and when she was arrested, she was booked under the name Shel St. Clair.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Bennett aka St. Clair, "Why are you not using your real name?"
"This is my real name," she answered.
"What is your real name?"
She went on, "Ma'am, I already explained. I won't speak to you."
And using the name Shel St. Clair, we discovered that she's left a trail of unhappy customers in at least three states - Texas, Louisiana, Illinois - running similar home repair companies. Homeowners there have complained they paid for work that was never done.
Last year, the state of Louisiana ordered St. Clair and her company to stop doing business there because they were working without the proper licenses.
And, in Illinois, the Attorney General sued St. Clair and her company for violating that state's Consumer Fraud Act through unfair and deceptive practices. The lawsuit refers to St. Clair as a "storm chaser" who was unlicensed and who took money from consumers without starting or completing the home repair work.
St. Clair and her company were ordered to pay more than $125,000 in restitution and fines.
NewsChannel5 Investigates asked former ANIC employee Steve Senn, "And if she tells us she's changed her ways?"
"She hasn't. She hasn't," he stated.
Senn worked at ANIC until recently in sales.
"You were telling people that your company was fixing their roofs?" we asked Senn.
"And you really didn't have any roofers on staff?"
Senn said they were supposed to follow a script and tell customers that ANIC has been around since 2008 and that it's a full-service contractor with licensed adjusters on staff. But none of that NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered is true.
ANIC filed incorporation papers in Tennessee just this past January.
The company, we found, does not have a state contractor's license and none of its employees has an adjuster's license in this state.
It's one reason, Senn said, he left ANIC.
Senn revealed, "I feel ashamed. I feel embarrassed. I wouldn't want somebody to do this to me."
Homeowners said ANIC was supposed to take care of everything and would get the job done. At least, they say, that's what the woman they knew as Michelle Bennett told them her company would do.
Bennett aka St. Clair told NewsChannel5 Investigates, "I like who I am. I'm a very good person."
But Marian Sherman now said, "If I would have known then what I know now, they never would have ever gotten any farther than our door."
The Illinois Attorney General's office said that $125,000 fine has still not been paid. St. Clair claims that she was never served with the lawsuit and didn't know about it. But she also, through her attorney, insists that ANIC has applied for a contractor's license in Tennessee. But the state told us that they have no record of it.
Now it's important when you're hiring someone to do work on your house that you first make sure they're licensed.
You can do that by going to www.verify.tn.gov.
To file a complaint about American National Insurance Construction or any other home repair business: contact the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors at (615) 741-8307 or Contractors.Home-Improvement@TN.Gov and the Consumer Insurance Services section of the Insurance Division at 615-741-2218 or CIS.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Board for Licensing Contractors has tips on selecting the right contractor at http://tn.gov/commerce/boards/contractors/consumers.shtml
A spokesman for the state adds that if a company has run off with your money, it could also be a matter for police.