CHICAGO (CBS) — Talk about a double whammy – your roof is messed up, you pay a contractor thousands of dollars, and he does the demolition work, only to disappear like Houdini.
CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas went on the hunt for that contractor, and discovered a trail of lies.READ MORE: Two Chicago Police Officers Wounded By Accidental Friendly Fire While Confronting Suspect In Lyons, Police Say
“Throughout this year it has been so hard,” said Tiana Hill. “It’s been so hard.”
Hill recently moved back to the home where she grew up. When COVID-19 caused family illnesses and financial hardships, she returned to take care of them.
“I came together to do something good,” she said tearfully. “I moved out of my apartment. I moved back to help.”
Things did not go as planned.
The nearly hundred-year-old home is full of family – 15 people in all – and also full of problems. The worst of those problems is a bad roof that water leaks through each time it rains – causing caved-in bedroom ceilings and wet walls.
So like many homeowners in need of repair, Hill turned to Yelp. She submitted a request and got an immediate reply from Riverside Roofing and Masonry.
“They came out the very next day,” Hill said.
And the momentum continued. She signed a contract and paid a $4,500 deposit – and work was all set to start, or so she thought.
“Then they contacted me the next day and said they need $6,500 to start,” Hill said. “So the next day, we gave them more money.”
Even after receiving the additional $2,000, one of Riverside’s owners, Justin Ephraim, pressed her for more – explaining the supplies cost more than anticipated.
“I’m in desperate need to get the house fixed,” Hill said.
Worried about the leaking roof and collapsing ceilings, Hill agreed. So the family pinched their scarce finances some more.
“My aunt – I gave everything I had from her retirement checks, her disability checks; my cousin’s unemployment checks; my paychecks,” Hill said.
But the $8,000 that Hill had now given the contractor still wasn’t enough. The only work the seemingly crooked contractor did was put holes in her wall.
Ephraim asked for even more money, but this time, Hill refused – and she said he ghosted her.
“No answer. Then I contacted them the next day – still no answer,” she said. “Voicemail messages, text messages – and at this time, I’m getting worried.”
Hill returned to Yelp and saw negative reviews describing scenarios strikingly similar to her own.
Jessica Najar said Riverside Roofing took $2,200 from her. She was supposed to get concrete installed in her backyard.
Instead, Riverside left her with a big pile of dirt, and no answers.
“He didn’t want to talk to us, and told us: ‘I can’t do this right now. I’m hungover,’” Najar said. “It was the middle of the day.”
There are eight more reviews about deposits being held hostage – empty promises, and no work being done.READ MORE: Man Shot, Killed After Argument At Bus Stop In Logan Square; Shooter Kills Second Man Nearby During Carjacking
“You shouldn’t be able to look at yourselves in the mirror every day and know that you’re scamming people,” Najar said.
One of the Yelpers even filed a lawsuit against Riverside.
“In the midst of everything that is going on, who does this to people?” Hill said. “I feel guilty because I found them on Yelp. Deep down inside, that’s a lot.”
We checked to see if Riverside Roofing and Masonry was licensed with the State of Illinois as required. It’s not.
We also called the number listed on Ephraim’s contracts. It was not in service.
And as to the business address in west suburban Riverside? We drove out there and found the offices of dentists and attorneys, but no roofing contractor.
What we did find was Matt Leuk, one of the attorneys at the office, who said Ephraim called and asked if a piece of registered mail had arrived for him.
“He said he lived here in the neighborhood and it may have been misdelivered to my address,” Leuk said.
Leuk confirmed Riverside Roofing and Masonry has never had an address where they claim to.
“I’ve never ever had anything happen like this,” he said.
Riverside seemed untraceable until Hill got Chicago Police to track down Ephraim. He then texted Hill, saying he’d finish the job.
She wasn’t buying it.
“This is stuff we can’t deal with,” Hill said.
When we contacted Ephraim about his abandoned projects, his initial response was, “You can’t please the world.” HE then called to rattle off a list of reasons why the customers were at fault.
But minutes after that conversation, he texted Hill – asking her not to speak to the news and saying, “I am already in a lot of trouble.”
“I feel taken advantage of,” Hill said. “I feel betrayed.”
Making matters worse, the bad weather combined with that bad roof meant Hill’s family had to cough up another $1,000 to someone else just to tarp their roof.
“I’m trying to be real positive, but I’m really hurt,” Hill said, “I’m really hurt.”
That tarp is still on the roof now, as a bright blue reminder of the work that needs to be done and the pain caused by a con artist.
What did the contractor tell us? That’s a good question, because his story and excuses kept changing – and you won’t believe the offer-slash-threat he made to Hill.
We’ll have that coming up at 10 p.m.
Meanwhile, Hill has created a GoFundMe for anyone who can help with the expenses this issue has caused her to incur.MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Cool Down In Effect
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