(KTVI) - A contractor who left Texas and Indiana owing more than $1.5 million to consumers and businesses has ties to two troubled roofing companies in the St. Louis area, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
In March, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued All Seasons, alleging the company scammed homeowners by taking insurance payments for storm-repair work and failing to do the work following the April 2012 hailstorm in the St. Louis area. Steffan was not named in the suit.
The BBB has learned that Steffan began working for A-Better Exterior earlier this year. That company opened an office in Surf City, N.J. to do contracting work in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which caused extensive property damage on the East Coast last October.
Robert Cannon, owner of Cannon Builders and Properties, told the BBB that Steffan is responsible for a series of complaints from St. Louis area homeowners in recent months.
“It’s my fault for trusting him,” Cannon said of Steffan. Cannon said Steffan took insurance money from homeowners in Missouri and New Jersey on behalf of Cannon Builders, but failed to authorize repair work. Cannon also said Steffan was supposed to pay materials suppliers, but did not do so.
Steffan denied the allegations, telling the BBB that Cannon is “looking for a scapegoat.” He said problems began when Cannon stopped coming into the office. “He didn’t take care of his responsibilities,” Steffan said. “All I ever did was try to help him (Cannon).”
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said that Steffan appears to have little regard for his customers.
“Court records and complaint files are filled with information from people who trusted Mr. Steffan or his companies, but ended up losing thousands,” Corey said. “After more than a decade of Mr. Steffan moving from one state to the next and causing heartache for consumers and businesses, it’s time to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Steffan’s business problems are well documented:
- In August 2002, the Texas attorney general filed suit against Mold Restoration Inc., as well as Steffan and his brother, Robert, owners of the business. The suit alleged that MRI and the Steffans took money from insurance companies and consumers for mold cleanup work that either was done poorly or never completed. The suit alleged that the owners “lavishly spent consumers’ insurance funds for their personal uses.” The suit says money from the business went to pay for furnishings for a lake home near Austin, boat parties, club memberships, liquor and skiing supplies. The brothers eventually signed an agreement barring them from any involvement in a mold remediation business in the state, promising not to forge the endorsements of mortgage companies or consumers and agreeing to pay more than $1.2 milion in fines, attorney fees, investigative costs and restitution to consumers.
- In March 2011, Steffan and his wife, Tiffany (who also uses the spelling Tiffanie) were named in the federal bankruptcy filing of The Rainmaker Group, Inc. and MorningStar Restoration. The Steffans were partners in MorningStar, a roofing business based in Indianapolis. The bankruptcy records list more than 60 homeowners in Indiana and Missouri who were owed more than $300,000 by MorningStar. Numerous supply companies also lost money in the bankruptcy.
- Beginning in the summer of 2012, the BBB in St. Louis has been inundated with dozens of complaints against All Seasons Construction, a business headed by Carol Richard of Manhattan, Ill. All Seasons has an “F” grade with the BBB due to numerous unanswered complaints. In December, the BBB issued a news alert on All Seasons, noting a pattern of consumer complaints over lengthy delays in getting insurance work done. The attorney general’s March 2013 suit against All Seasons asks for full restitution for the company’s customers.
- In recent weeks, the BBB has received several complaints against Cannon Builders, most from consumers who contracted for roofing work that was not done. Owner Robert Cannon blamed Steffan for most of his company’s problems and said he eventually fired Steffan. Cannon said he is struggling to make refunds to disgruntled employees and pay off suppliers and subcontractors.
Steffan called the Texas lawsuit “frivolous” and “a farce.” He said, “They were trying to shut down the mold industry in Texas.” He said he ultimately paid the state only $17,000 of the settlement agreement. He blamed the Indiana MorningStar case on investment in a business training facility and an unusually hard winter. “We couldn’t overcome it; we had to file bankruptcy,” he said.
Cannon said he has known Steffan for several years, first meeting him after a storm hit the Florissant, Mo., area, in 2002. Last summer, Steffan was working as general manager for All Seasons and approached Cannon about doing consulting work for that company. Cannon agreed.
In July, All Seasons opened a small office on Jungermann Road in St. Peters, just a few doors down from the offices of Cannon Builders. Cannon said he worked with Steffan and All Seasons for about a month, trying to help the struggling company, before the office was closed. Soon after, Steffan went to work for Cannon as a manager of Cannon Builders, Cannon told the BBB. Steffan and his wife, Tiffanie, became close friends with Cannon and Cannon’s girlfriend, both Cannon and his girlfriend said.
Tiffanie Steffan, who identified herself as office manager of Cannon Builders, handled the company’s accreditation with the BBB. The accreditation has been suspended after several recent customer complaints.
“He was handling a lot of stuff for us,” Cannon’s girlfriend, Jennifer Cerutti, said of Steffan.
Cannon and Cerutti said Steffan pushed to open a Cannon Building office in New Jersey after the hurricane there last fall. Cannon said the decision was a mistake because Steffan and the office collected insurance money but did little construction work. Problems in New Jersey affected Cannon’s ability to do work in the St. Louis area, Cannon said.
After Cannon “pulled the plug” and fired Steffan, Steffan helped set up A-Better Exterior in New Jersey. Daniel Weiler is listed as general partner of that company. Steffan’s name is not a part of the official state certificate of registration.
A former employee of Steffan who said he worked for him at Steffan’s nonprofit ministry in Indianapolis, said Steffan “preys on people. I’m happy to do whatever I can to put an end to this,” he said. “People are hurting; it’s a real shame. If you want to find Richard, just chase the hail.”
A former salesman at Cannon Builders said Steffan was his immediate supervisor there. The man said he left the company after he was not paid for “several thousand dollars” in work.
A man from Smithville, Mo., who is still owed $9,000 from Steffan’s MorningStar Restoration firm for roof work that was never done, said: “There are a lot of angry people out there.”
The BBB offers the following tips for homeowners who want to hire a roofer or other contractor:
- Check with your insurance company and read your policy carefully to determine the extent of your coverage.
- Know who you are dealing with. Find out where the company is headquartered and how long it has been doing business in your community. Does the company have an established office in your area or simply a postal box? Watch for out-of-state phone numbers and license plates.
- Find out whether the contractor is bonded and insured against accidents or issues with workmanship. If it is soliciting business door-to-door, ask whether it has a legitimate soliciting permit. If you are unsure, call your local government officials to find out.
- Ask the company for references and call those property owners. Ask them whether the jobs were performed as agreed and if they were satisfied with the results.
- Ask for a written contract and read it to ensure that everything mentioned by the salesperson is included. Make sure it includes all details of the work as well as when and how payments are to be made and when work will be completed.
- Find out if there is a cancellation penalty if you terminate the contract before the work begins.
- Beware of any company that suggests you do not have to pay your insurance deductible. Such a claim is illegal in many states, including Missouri and Illinois.
- Get more than one estimate.
- Do not pay the entire amount in advance. Hold back a portion of the payment until all work is completed to your satisfaction.