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Roofing companies under inquiry

The Sheriff's Office is looking into claims that a woman with Alzheimer's disease was illegally talked into $50,000 in repairs on her $18,000 mobile home.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


BROOKRIDGE -- Authorities are investigating two Pinellas County construction companies after an 80-year-old woman who suffers from Alzheimer's disease spent her savings on questionable home improvements.

In all, Helen McPherson was charged nearly $50,000 over a three-year period for windows and three new roofs for her mobile home in Brookridge, sheriff's reports state. The home itself is valued at $18,000.

No criminal charges have been filed.

The cost of the improvements was discovered by McPherson's family members when they came from Kentucky to put her in a nursing home. Although suffering from dementia, she had been living alone.

On Wednesday, her sister and brother-in-law discovered contracts showing that McPherson had paid nearly $10,000 for a new roof in 1999, about $3,400 for another roof in 2000, about $20,000 for new windows that same year and $14,400 for a third roof in February, reports said.

The second roof was installed by 1st Florida Roofing Co. of Clearwater. The rest of the work was done by Perma-Guard Industries of Largo, records indicate.

Scott Peterson, vice president of Perma-Guard, would not comment Thursday when contacted by the Times. State records show that the business, at 6790 118th Ave. N in Largo, has a state licensed contractor on staff. Records also show numerous complaints have been filed against the company, including 44 complaints regarding harassing or unwanted solicitation sales calls.

Another complaint was made in 1992 by a St. Petersburg woman who said Perma-Guard employees told her the roof on her garage was in need of almost $7,000 worth of repairs even though it had been replaced one month earlier.

1st Florida Roofing Co. also has a state licensed contractor on staff and five complaints on its record for unwanted solicitation phone calls.

Rebecca Mays, vice president of 1st Florida Roofing, said she was unfamiliar with McPherson's case, but added, "We're not in the business of taking advantage of elderly people."

She said it was possible her company had replaced McPherson's roof in 2000 for added insulation. She said that the price her company charged for the roof -- about $3,400 -- was fair and much less than the nearly $10,000 and $15,000 Perma-Guard Industries charged for its roofing.

McPherson's family members could not be reached for comment Thursday. According to reports, they told authorities that McPherson had spent so much on the repairs, she was unable to pay $17,000 of Perma-Guard's last bill. As a result, the company filed a lien against her mobile home, they said.

No such lien could be found in Hernando County court records Thursday.

Lt. Joe Paez of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office said that the agency is investigating whether either company exploited McPherson. The Sheriff's Office has had no prior complaints about either company, he said.

"Some companies are reputable, but unfortunately, especially when you have a community of retirees . . . others take advantage of them," Paez said.

To avoid trouble, Paez recommended that anyone considering hiring a contractor first:

Check to see if the company is properly licensed.

Ask for references.

Check for complaints with the local Better Business Bureau or the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at (800) HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352).

Also, a red flag should also go up if the business demands payment before the work is completed, Paez said.

"Some take the money and then never do the work," he said. "That's outright theft."

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