HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced that his office has filed a lawsuit against Gillece Services,Thomas Gillece (owner of Gillece), James F. Hackwelder (a former service manager for Gillece), and Joseph A. Nikoula (a field supervisor for Gillece) for allegedly misleading Pennsylvania consumers into paying for unnecessary home improvement work, including the unnecessary replacement of sewer pipes. The office seeks to return lost money to Pennsylvania consumers, get civil penalties, and ban Gillece from the plumbing industry.
“It’s my responsibility to do all I can to protect everyday consumers,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Right now, when so many have lost wages and millions are out of work, it’s more important than ever that Pennsylvanians feel someone is watching out for their bottom line. Tacking on extra, unnecessary, work to squeeze money out of vulnerable homeowners is garbage, plain and simple.”
The lawsuit follows an investigation in which the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection discovered that Gillece’s technicians routinely fail to make a good faith effort to unclog consumers’ sewer pipes with a sewer snake before recommending costly excavation work to clear the clogs.
The Bureau’s investigation revealed that Gillece lures consumers experiencing sewer back-ups by offering a “$93 or free” special called the “Clog Crusher.” Through the offer, Gillece promises to clear consumers’ clogs for $93 or else the service is free. The Bureau’s investigation revealed that many Pennsylvania consumers who called Gillece for the Clog Crusher were told that their clog cannot be cleared via a snake but would instead require costly excavation work. Many such consumers who sought second opinions on Gillece’s recommendations found that other plumbers were readily able to clear their clogs. The Bureau’s investigation revealed that one reason Gillece is very ineffective at clearing clogs via a snake is because Gillece’s service trucks are only stocked with a starting drill cutter to attach to its snakes. Despite the availability of many other types of cutters designed to clear more stubborn clogs, Gillece does not carry these other cutters on its service trucks.
““They told us what we have is not set up correctly and it wasn’t legal,” said Jenny Contakos, a Pittsburgh-area resident and Gillece customer. “We had another company come in the next day and used a snake and we’ve had no problems for years.I can’t imagine what they’re doing to people on limited incomes.”
Many consumers also reported to the Bureau that although Gillece was able to clear their clog, Gillece’s service technicians told them their pipes were physically damaged when, in fact, the pipes were not. Furthermore, the Bureau found that many consumers experiencing minor problems with their sewer lines, such as shifting or root infiltration, were told that such conditions required costly replacements without being offered the option of routine maintenance to address the problems. Additionally, the Bureau’s investigation revealed that Gillece’s HVAC service technicians also recommend costly and unnecessary replacements.
Finally, the Bureau’s investigation revealed that Gillece engages in high-pressure sales or scare tactics, such as suggesting that consumers’ health or safety will be at risk if they do not make Gillece’s recommended repairs immediately and insisting on commencing work immediately in an effort to misled consumers into believing that they cannot cancel their contracts.
The complaint alleges several additional violations of the Pennsylvania Consumer Protection Law and the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, including that Gillece has engaged in deceptive advertising, failed to complete home improvement contracts in a workmanlike manner, and made false statements to consumers about the basis of Gillece’s high prices.
“When OAG contacted us we were shocked – in a good way,” Jenny concluded. “It’s amazing that someone recognizes what people are going through. It was fantastic that OAG reached out to us. We were, like, wow, there’s actually justice.”
Any consumers who believe they may be a victim of these practices by Gillece should file a complaint with the Bureau of Consumer Protection at www.attorneygeneral.gov, call 800-441-2555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection also recommends the following tips to protect consumers from falling victim to deceptive conduct involving plumbing repairs:
- Get a second opinion before signing a contract for an expensive sewer repair or replacement.
- Ask for a recording of a camera inspection of your sewer pipes.
- Be advised that you have three days to cancel a home improvement contract. Don’t be pressured into allowing a plumber to start work during this three-day cancellation period. Be advised that you have three days to cancel even if the work has been commenced or is completed.
The Complaint was filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jill Ambrose in the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
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