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Contractor accused in local Sandy fraud, arrested in Texas on fraud

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UPDATE: This story has been updated to appear as it does in the May 10 editions of the Wantagh and Seaford Herald-Citizens.

A contractor facing 36 consumer fraud complaints that he defrauded Hurricane Sandy victims out of millions of dollars was arrested in Texas last month and charged with contractor fraud. Among his alleged local victims were Wantagh and Seaford homeowners.

Cody Trey Lawrence, of Turnkey Contractor Solutions, was arrested April 8 in Calhoun County, Texas, by Port Lavaca police on an outstanding warrant from Louisiana.

Lawrence, 42, was charged with contractor fraud and the misapplication of payments. He was released the next day on $1,000 bond, Texas law enforcement records show. The charges carry a possible sentence of 90 days to six months in jail, and restitution.

Lawrence lived and worked in Texas and Louisiana before becoming licensed by the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs in 2016, a search of online records shows. Turnkey’s brochures boast of home-elevation work that Lawrence had done in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, and elsewhere across the country.

Calls to Lawrence’s criminal attorney in Louisiana were not returned.

For several months in 2017, Turnkey appeared on a list of vendors that met qualifications to perform post-Sandy home elevations on behalf of New York Rising, the agency charged with distributing federal emergency funds to residents to rebuild their homes.

As late as last October, Lawrence appeared in a promotional photo on the website of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, which oversees NY Rising. He was pictured with Lisa Bova Hiatt, the former executive director of GOSR, advertising a $9.3 million home elevation pilot project called Uplift, which raised homes in Staten Island and Brooklyn to protect them from future flood damage.

GOSR spokeswoman Catie Marshall said the office “did not and does not have a direct relationship with this firm, and no GOSR funds have been distributed to it.” GOSR officials acknowledged that Turnkey was a subcontractor on the state project for a short time in 2017, but the company defaulted on the contract, and was let go by the project’s general contractor and not paid.

Complaints close to home

Several of Turnkey’s alleged victims who spoke to the Herald said they signed contracts with Lawrence in 2017, and that the fact that the company was on the NY Rising list bolstered their confidence in it. They added that when they met with Lawrence, he showed them a glossy flier that boasted about the work his company had done for NY Rising and other government grant programs in other states.

Records show that 36 complaints were filed against Turnkey this year with the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs. Two complaints brought against the company in 2017 have been closed. Many of the complainants remain unable to return to their homes because the work was never completed. In a few cases, no work had begun. Homeowners paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to Turnkey to raise their homes to protect them against future storm damage.

Turnkey’s home improvement license was suspended by the Office of Consumer Affairs on Jan. 31, and most of the homeowners he allegedly defrauded were referred to the county district attorney’s office and NY Rising. Turnkey’s Long Island office, meanwhile, has closed.

Marshall said last month that an investigator has been assigned to review the hardship applications filed with GOSR by many of the 38 Long Island complainants, and that the investigator has begun contacting Turnkey’s alleged victims.

A spokeswoman for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas confirmed that the office was “reviewing complaints regarding this contractor.”

“The district attorney takes allegations of contractor fraud very seriously, and each allegation is investigated thoroughly,” spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said. Several victims told the Herald that they had been called in for lengthy interviews with officials from the D.A.’s office.

Singas has prosecuted at least two home improvement contractors for allegedly scamming Sandy victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The contractors were charged with grand larceny and scheme to defraud.