Finding someone to clean up their yards after the October snowstorm was hard enough for area neighborhoods. Now some families here say they thought they could trust one contractor.
But now, they tell the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters he took their money, and then, he took off!
You may have seen him in your neighborhood, and maybe even have hired him for a job right in your own backyard.
“I felt like I was taken advantage of. I was lied to,” said Middletown resident Nicki Rynaski.
Nicki says 41-year-old John Dempsey suddenly appeared in her neighborhood just after the October snowstorm.
Like thousands of Connecticut residents, Nicki and her neighbors were scrambling to clear fallen branches and debris from their yards. Nicki said she had every reason to believe Dempsey’s company Laydown Tree Service was legitimate. After all, he was doing tree work for her neighbors.
“When the storm hit, everybody was seeing how he was coming and removing things. And so I think a lot of people jumped on the wagon there to try to get him,” she explained, "That's how they work. They come in, earn the people's trust, and then they take off."
Nicki and her husband agreed to pay Dempsey nearly $1,000 upfront to remove five trees from her yard. Dempsey even handwrote a proposal, signed it, and gave the couple a receipt.
"We found out later he didn't have a license,” said Nicki.
Another neighbor said he paid Dempsey for a yard full of work that never got finished.
“I paid him $2,500,” he said.
But these homeowners said they haven’t seen Dempsey or their money in months. Their constant phone calls to the numbers listed on his business card were never returned.
First they went to the police, who told them they’d have better luck suing Dempsey in court. Then, frustrated neighbors called the Troubleshooters. We dug deep and discovered Dempsey’s rap sheet includes multiple larceny convictions. At least two were for doing just what these neighbors claimed he did to them — promising work and never following through. But tracking down Dempsey proved difficult even for us.
We did get in touch with Dempsey, and he agreed to talk to us. But he never showed up!
We knocked on his door day after day, but he never appeared.
Laydown Tree Service has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, and the Department of Consumer Protection said it is actively investigating the company for unfair business practices. It’s a problem licensed tree companies said they’re seeing all too often these days.
"It's the availability of the work right now. It tends to be everyone has access to a chainsaw and a pickup truck,” said Marshall Lussen of The Yard Group in Glastonbury.
Dempsey finally called us back again, telling us he’d “overbooked” himself and had “reimbursed” unhappy clients. But the homeowners we spoke with said they haven’t seen a dime. We wanted to know why Dempsey was operating his business without a license. He agreed to meet us for a second time, and then a third. Each time, he was a no-show.
Customers who once trusted this contractor now have one message for John Dempsey.
“He just needs to stop and be an honest man. Because we’re honest people here,” said Nicki.