One of the largest and most expensive plumbing and cooling companies in Connecticut has agreed to pay $35,000 in fines to avoid legal action following consumer complaints.
Over the past 10 years 47 consumers had filed formal complaints against Aiello Plumbing and Cooling, Windsor Locks, alleging that the firm’s employees overcharged them, had employees illegally perform work not licensed for, failed to properly supervise workers, and in at least one case failed to obtain a building permit to disconnect a fireplace chimney vent.
The most serious complaints, according to state Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr., and Richard Maloney, director of trade practices, was failing to properly supervise workers and permitting workers who are licensed in one field to work in an area they were not licensed. For instance, having a plumber do electrical work.
This is the second time Aiello has been filed. The first fine came in 2005 because an electrician did work he was not licensed to perform.
“We have reviewed the allegations and the business response, and I feel confident that Michael Jezouit (owner) and Stephen Birch (general manager) now understand fully that they shall follow proper building code, display their licenses, obtain permits on time, respond to the Department immediately upon any further complaint and follow basic trade practices,” Farrell said today. “We were ready to proceed administratively to a formal hearing, but it became clear that the respondent was willing to settle the matter without any additional proceedings, and more importantly, understands the necessity to comply with Connecticut law.”
During the four years that I have been a consumer columnist I received a number of complaints against Aiello claiming that employees attempted to convince homeowners to authorize major repairs when only a minor repair was required, overcharging, and shoddy work. Many of the complaints came from elderly consumers who were unfamiliar with what the cost of minor plumbing work should be, and only learned that they were overcharged when a friend or a relative reviewed their bill.
Farrell said the main purpose of the lengthy investigation was to convince the executives to agree that their practices did not follow the law and to have them state in writing that from now on they would follow the law.
“So that later they can’t say we didn’t that that is what the law is,” Farrell said.
Jezouit signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance and paid a civil penalty of $30,000 while Birch signed a separate Assurance of Voluntary Compliance and paid a civil penalty of $5,000.
“We will continue to monitor the business practices of Michael R. Jezouit and Stephen G. Birch to ensure their compliance with the all Connecticut statutes and regulations,” Farrell said.
Aiello officials had no immediate comment. However on Wednesday, Birch claimed that he and the owner did not pay a fine nor a civil penalty.
“Primarily, Aiello did not pay any “fine.” Your reporting that we paid a “civil penalty” is incorrect,” Birch wrote to me in an email. The remainder of his response is at the bottom of this column.
Birch makes that claim while the press release from Farrell says: “Michael R. Jezouit signed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance and paid a civil penalty of $30,000; Stephen G. Birch signed a separate Assurance of Voluntary Compliance and paid a civil penalty of $5,000.”
The last time I wrote about them they said:
The company denies that its work was ever sloppy and said that complaints from customers are actually low compared to the thousands of jobs its plumbers perform. They claim to have a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.
The last time I wrote about Aiello was in November after the firm tangled with a West Hartford conservator.
Carolyn G. Levine, a geriatric care manager and conservator from West Hartford, who wrote me last summer that one of her elderly clients – without her knowledge or permission – called Aiello to have a clogged sink fixed.
She said the plumber performed branch line cleaning, replaced several feet of drain line, opened a plaster wall under one sink and put in ABS piping on two sinks.
“The total,” she wrote me, “came to $1,919.30. The work performed was sloppy. He put in black pipes (exposed) with a pedestal sink. Previously there was all silver piping. The plaster wall was left open and one can see through the next bathroom.”
A jagged edge was left on one piece, cutting an aide’s hand, she said.
She said that the bill was much more than most other plumbers would charge and added that this was the third time in her career that she believes one of her clients was overcharged by Aiello.
This time, she said, she was standing firm, especially after an Aiello plumber accused her of padding her bill by repeatedly coming to her client’s home to deal with the plumbing issue.
“Aiello, in an effort to ensure that a customer receives replacement materials that will last over time, installed an ABS trap for the simple reason that this type of material is well known in the industry as being a superior product to chrome offering a longer lifespan. In other words, by demanding to use an inferior product after the work was completed, Ms. Levine is criticizing Aiello for initially doing the right thing,” said Birch, Aiello general manager.
Birch had asked Levine to provide three written quotes from other firms showing that Aiello’s charge was out of line. He said that in all cases Aiello guarantees satisfaction and will provide a refund with three quotes. However, I wonder how many plumbing companies would provide free quotes.
Despite Levine not providing any competing quotes, Aiello last week sent her a refund check for $685 and asked her to sign a statement saying she was withdrawing her complaint to me and to the state Department of Consumer Protection.
The refund was sent after Levine showed Aiello officials pictures she took of the original work, photos that she turned over to the attorney.
“Regarding the reimbursement of $685.30, it proves how far Aiello will go to satisfy a customer,” Birch said.
Levine said she would not sign a release because it would show that she was satisfied with the work and how her client was treated. “They did a lousy job,” she said.
The following the remainder of Aiello’s statement:
Secondly, upon completing its review, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection did not make any finding of fact whatsoever that Aiello was engaged in any wrongdoing, particularly with respect to ethical practices with the public. At every step of the review, Aiello was open and made its records available to the Department, as importantly acknowledged by the Department. Thirdly, the event in which a grey area was highlighted by the Department is in regards to the 1:1 ratio of trade technician to apprentice, and Aiello had adequately explained the underlying situation to the Department. Importantly, this event did not involve any “unethical practices” with the public. Fourthly, the Department has closed all matters, of whatever their nature.
Concerning Carol Levine, Aiello declared to you earlier the facts of this situation. Aiello trusts that you will report the facts, accurately. Insofar as “overcharging,” this is, frankly, a specious claim, considering no objectively credible or reliable facts exist to prove your claim. Notwithstanding the lack of such facts, you have recklessly portrayed Aiello has engaging in “overcharging,” with the intended effect of putting Aiello in bad light in the public’s eye.
Aiello Home Services is trustworthy and dependable. We have loyal customers, as evidenced by the fact that our percentage of repeat customers significantly exceeds the industry standard. Aiello has earned this loyalty by listening to our customers, as well as, more recently, to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection about its interpretation of agency regulations. We take such feedback seriously. In sum, Aiello is rated A+ by Connecticut Better Business Bureau and has a 97% “excellent” Customer Service Rating by Lennox Industries third party Survey Company. Aiello is a leader in the residential plumbing, heating and air conditioning industry because of what we do and we stand by our work. We are proud of our accomplishments.
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