(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — A Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge has ordered a northeast Ohio home-improvement contractor who broke Ohio’s consumer protection laws at least 71 times to pay $625,873 in restitution to 19 consumers he defrauded, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced today.
But Judge Michael Russo dropped the hammer even harder on Neil Wolfe and his business, Neil Construction, when he also ordered the defendants to pay $1,775,000 in civil penalties – or $25,000 per statute violation.
“The judge’s decision says it all, imposing the maximum civil penalties allowed,” AG Yost said. “This should serve as a strong deterrent to any business owner who thinks they can get away with stealing from Ohioans.”
The final judgment resolves the state’s lawsuit against Wolfe and Neil Construction, filed in February 2021, and brings to a close a case in which Wolfe was twice held in contempt of court.
This lawsuit stemmed from an investigation by Yost’s Consumer Protection Section that found that Wolfe would take customers’ down payments for home-improvement work, then either perform no work, shoddy work or incomplete work. He also failed to obtain permits, failed to register as a contractor, wrote unfair and one-sided contracts, and stalled and evaded other legal obligations.
In October 2021, Judge Russo issued a preliminary injunction order against Wolfe and, at the request of Yost’s office, appointed a receiver to oversee Neil Construction. By March 2022, after Wolfe had repeatedly flouted a ruling by the judge, Russo ordered him to cease all operations, and the receiver proceeded to permanently shut down Neil Construction.
In winding down the business, the receiver determined that consumers were owed $663,300, but the company had assets totaling only about $37,000 for distribution. The judge’s restitution order against Wolfe personally – $625,873 – covers the difference.
Wolfe is currently serving three years in the Belmont Correctional Institution for a criminal theft conviction in a separate case involving a consumer he defrauded.
Ohioans who suspect unfair or deceptive business practice contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.