FARGO-As temperatures warm and people start to watch for robins, there's something else that shows up with nice weather that's somewhat less welcome-home repair fraud.
And it can be costly.
The North Dakota Attorney General's Office recently filed two civil court cases that are pending against individuals accused of defrauding consumers, with the potential total restitution amounting to more than $20,000.
In addition, within the next month or two the attorney general's office intends to file a civil suit against the operator of a now defunct contracting business in Fargo called Studs to Rugs, according to Assistant Attorney General Parrell Grossman, who heads the agency's consumer protection and antitrust division.
In that case, Grossman said nine consumers have filed complaints against Studs to Rugs and its principal operator, Tim Rosene, claiming losses of about $324,000 for projects that were never completed.
Entirely separate from that, a number of businesses and individuals sued Studs to Rugs or Rosene last year and early this year in Cass County District Court alleging a variety of wrongs, but essentially claiming they were owed money.
A number of those cases have been closed resulting in judgments totalling more than $165,000.
The two civil matters recently brought by the attorney general's office in Cass County District Court involve Anthony "Tony" Cline of Moorhead and Collin Strehlow, doing business under the name NailedIt Home Improvements.
In the case of Cline, who according to court records advertised his services under the name of Handyman On Duty, the North Dakota Attorney General's Office alleges Cline operated as a contractor and accepted payment for services without a contractor's license and abandoned a contract after a deposit was paid. The state also alleges, among other things, that Cline in at least one case took funds for one contract and used them to help fulfill a different contract.
Grossman said there are a number of steps consumers can take to minimize the chance of running into trouble.
• Checking with the North Dakota Secretary of State's Office to make sure the contractor is licensed. Grossman stressed that the fact someone is licensed does not guarantee they will operate in a lawful manner, though the absence of a license should be a big red flag.
• Asking the contractor for the names and phone numbers of recent clients to use them as references.
• Checking with the Attorney General's Office to see if any complaints have been lodged against the contractor. Grossman stressed, however, that sometimes the agency becomes aware of a problem all at once when a group of consumers begin submitting complaints at the same time; meaning the absence of complaints isn't a guarantee that a problem won't spring up.
Grossman said other steps that help head off problems include limiting the amount of advance payments by tying payments to progress and not paying more than 50 percent of a project's costs up front.
He said it is also a very good idea to include anticipated starting dates and completion dates in the wording of contracts, which will help authorities determine whether a job has been abandoned.
The lawsuits the state filed against Strehlow and Cline and the anticipated suit against Rosene have as their goal to bar the individuals from doing contracting work in the future and to seek restitution for those who are out money.
Grossman said that instead of lawsuits, the state sometimes files cease and desist orders which instantly bar people from doing business, though they lack the ability to achieve judgments for restitution, penalty amounts or court costs.
In 2017, the attorney general's office brought 24 contractor fraud actions that resulted in $170,000 worth of court-ordered judgments for restitution.
Of that amount, $2,000 was actually paid in restitution to victims of contractor fraud.
"It's a painful reality that restitution is very difficult to collect," Grossman said.
Attempts to reach Strehlow and Cline were not successful.
A message left with an attorney representing Rosene was not returned at the time this story went to print.