Posted at: 02/17/2014 11:03 PM
Updated at: 02/18/2014 9:47 AM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Reporter's Notebook: Nobody deserves to get scammed. We all work hard for our money and try to spend it wisely. That's why it stings when we feel we've been duped or taken advantage of.
A few weeks ago, a few people contacted the 4 On Your Side team to report they had been scammed by John Montaño of Superior Plumbing. When we get multiple calls on the same issue, we do background work to see if there is a pattern of fraud. In this case the pattern was blatantly obvious. A records search unveiled companies and individuals had sued Montaño accusing him of defrauding them. A handful of people filed consumer complaints with the Attorney General's Office. The Better Business Bureau gives Superior Plumbing a failing grade. Several people reported that Montaño either did shoddy work in their home or didn't do the work at all, but took their money anyway.
We found Sandra Schairer and Joan Nelson's names in some of the reports. When we contacted them, they were eager to interview with us because they felt that Montaño had duped them and gotten away with it.
"How could I be so dumb to trust somebody who wasn't trustworthy?" Schairer told us.
"I was blown away that he was allowed to commit this kind of theft," Nelson said.
Their stories were like so many others. They both said that Montaño went to their homes to do plumbing work. He demanded 50 percent of the estimate upfront claiming he would use it to buy the materials, but instead the two women say he ran with their money and never returned a phone call or email.
In Nelson's case, she says Montaño charged her credit card multiple times.
"The first charge was for $1,500 and then a few days later he had charged another $600," Nelson said. "He asked us to sign something. I thought it was to approve the work, but it was actually a paper saying he had done the work."
We wanted to get in touch with Montano, but based on our conversations with his former customers, we realized it was doubtful he would meet with us willingly. That prompted Sarah, a producer on our 4 On Your Side Team, to stage a home with a fake problem.
She called Montaño and told him the water heater wasn't putting out hot water. All we had done to the water heater was lower the thermostat.
The next day Montaño showed. He didn't know that my team and I were watching his every move from a room next door. We caught Montaño on hidden camera trying to sell Sarah a tankless water heater after spending less than one minute examining the unit. He then made his pitch, asking for half down today and he would return later to do the work.
I intervened and confronted him about the many claims he defrauded former customers. Montaño denied all claims of fraud and insisted that he has always done the work he was paid to do.
Montano also insisted that the water heater in our staged home was broken and did need to be replaced. He encouraged us to get a home inspector to the house to take a look at it to validate his point.
We thought that was a great idea. We asked the City of Albuquerque's Chief Building Inspector Andy Leyba to inspect the water heater and make an assessment of whether it needed replacing or not.
After a thorough inspection, Leyba concluded the water heater was operationally fine and replacing it was unnecessary.
It's doubtful that many of the people who claim Montano defrauded will get their money back, but they hope that exposing him will save other people from making a huge mistake.
Montaño told us he no longer works for a company called Superior Plumbing. He said because of the many complaints and bad reputation his company had, he changed the name of the company to Superior Heating and Cooling.
When Leyba ran Montaño's name through a state database, he discovered that Montaño does not have a journeyman's license on file with the State of New Mexico. According to Leyba, people without that credential are not authorized to do the physical plumbing or mechanical labor.
It's worth noting, that before you hire someone to do labor in your home, do extensive research. You can contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division and ask for a history of complaints. Many websites offer reviews of contractors.
This is your money and you deserve to put in the hands of honest people who are properly licensed to do the work.