Attorney General investigates snow storm “vultures”


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his office is investigating at least 60 complaints of price gouging in the wake of the massive lake effect storm two weeks ago–against towing companies, snowplow operators, even grocery stores.

“While a lot of New Yorkers had their minds on turkey, in the last couple of weeks, in my office, we have been on the lookout for vultures,” said Schneiderman at a Wednesday afternoon news conference in Buffalo.

Schneiderman has also received more than a dozen complaints against contractors who raked snow from residential roofs–like the man who charged Dan Matthews’ family thousands of dollars to clear their roof in West Seneca, but left it only partially done.

Matthews was livid, “I basically told this man he should be embarrassed to call himself a Buffalonian.”

Of the 60 complaints the Attorney General received, 39 have led to “cease and desist” letters, “We are here today to make it clear that we have ‘zero tolerance’ for people who prey on their neighbors in a time of crisis.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he fielded complaints from residents while overseeing county snow removal crews, “As we were trying to clean off the roads, we were getting stories of people asking hundreds of dollars from seniors just to plow their driveway. Then we started hearing of thousands of dollars that people were asking seniors–including some who actually paid it–to have their roof shoveled.”

With government funds through agencies such as FEMA at stake, U.S. Attorney William Hochul announced he is also monitoring possible fraud, “We stand ready at the U.S. Attorney’s office to make sure money does not go into the hands of the wrong people.”

Mail delivery was delayed by the storm for as many as 4 days in some of the hard hit areas, prompting Schneiderman to send letters to more than 70 companies asking them to waive late fees.
The Attorney General is also encouraging homeowners faced with foreclosure to get help through his Homeowner Protection Plan.

Kate Lockhart, a paralegal at the Western New Law Center, which provides legal assistance for troubled homeowners, said the storm caused additional hardship for many of their clients.

“We have had to renegotiate some payments with banks, or banks’ attorneys, to see if they would accept payments at a later date since people are not getting the money in a timely manner, or if your check is in the mail, and it does not come because there is no mail service.”

Another big concern in the wake of the massive storm: does Erie County qualify for assistance through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency?

Poloncarz said, FEMA officials are in town weighing the costs of the storm to local governments, and has no doubt, Erie County has reached the dollar threshold for reimbursement, but there is more to the FEMA’s decision than dollars and cents.

“There’s guidelines on FEMA as to what you can spend it on. For example, we believe they only allow for up to 48 hours of snow removal, which of course for some of the communities, it took 5 days to remove the snow.”

Poloncarz expects FEMA to be in town for weeks assessing the costs of the lake effect storm, and says it could take months for a decision.

If you need help, after the storm, you can call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 853-8404. Homeowners in need of assistance can call the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) at 1-800-HOME-456, or go to the special website the Attorney General has set up at http://www.AGHomeHelp.com.

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