In a hidden camera investigation airing today, syndicated TV news show "Inside Edition" finds dozens of New Orleans residents who say they have been victimized twice -- once by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, and again by a contractor who took thousands of dollars up front to repair their homes and never finished, or in some cases, even started the work.
Newlyweds Felicia and Robert Lombard paid more than $48,000 to a construction company called Dynasty Distributors to totally rebuild their Katrina-ravaged home, money they planned on using for their wedding.
"They haven't done anything in here ... It's just excuse after excuse after excuse, and never once did they even try to attempt to call us," Felicia Lombard told Senior Investigative Correspondent Matt Meagher.
The Lombards say Dynasty did a small amount of work and never returned. In the Inside Edition report, they showed piles of termite-infested debris they say the company buried under their house, which remains uninhabitable.
"It's disgusting ... it's mind boggling that someone can be that low," says Cynthia Albert, an official with the New Orleans Better Business Bureau. She says contracting complaints have skyrocketed since Hurricane Katrina and that many companies are preying on homeowners.
"There are a lot of bad companies out there and they just want to separate you from your money," Albert says.
Inside Edition also spoke with dozens of other people who say Dynasty Distributors victimized them, too.
Ron Evans says he paid Dynasty nearly $15,000 of his insurance money to raise his house and repair his floor. The company never returned to do the work, and Evans' insurance money is now gone. He and his family are forced to live in a cramped trailer on the front lawn of his ruined home.
Dr. George Gilmore says he paid Dynasty $135,000 to totally renovate his washed-out chiropractic offices. But, Gilmore tells Meagher, after completing only half the work, the company stopped showing up.
"We've been ripped off," says Gilmore.
Another local resident, Paul Blanchard, says he paid Dynasty $19,000 to make his home level after Hurricane Katrina. The work was so bad, Blanchard says, the house is now leaning severely. Doors don't shut, floors are slanted, and guests feel queasy inside. Blanchard tells Meagher he "wasted" his money.
All of the customers Inside Edition spoke with said they have tried unsuccessfully for months to get Dynasty Distributors to show up and finish their projects or even to return their repeated phone calls.
For the report, Inside Edition rigged a house with hidden cameras and Meagher, posing as a homeowner looking to rebuild a Katrina-ravaged house, made an appointment with a Dynasty representative to get an estimate.
Dynasty Vice President George Vincent, shown in the report surveying the house and making calculations, seemed ready to take on this big job, despite all the customers who claim the company left them hanging. Inside Edition also learned that Dynasty had no license to bid on or perform such a large job. When Meagher revealed himself as a reporter to Vincent, Vincent left the house and drove off without a word.
Vincent also didn't want to talk to the group of angry Dynasty customers Inside Edition had gathered at the house to confront Vincent.
Meagher also tracked down Dynasty Distributors owner Joe Martino. Martino, who lives in a pricey gated community and drives a $65,000 Lexus, told Meagher he was too sick for an interview and would be at doctors' appointments all day. But instead, Meagher found him at a local topless bar, where he refused to answer any questions.
Late last week, the Louisiana Attorney General issued a temporary restraining order against Dynasty Distributors and Joe Martino, calling their actions unethical and unscrupulous. Officials are hoping they can recover some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars these homeowners have lost.
According to Cynthia Albert of the BBB, Dynasty Distributor's practices are adding insult to injury for an already-downtrodden population.
"Our people here can't be victimized anymore but they are," she says. "This is going to go on for a very long time."