Attorney General Josh Stein Takes Legal Action Against Hurricane Florence Price Gougers

suit also targets debt collection company alleged to engage in illegal practices

Attorney General Josh Stein Takes Legal Action Against Hurricane Florence Price Gougers
Image: NOAA
October 18, 2018

Attorney General Josh Stein filed two separate price gouging lawsuits involving tree removal related to Hurricane Florence, which devastated much of North Carolina's coast in September. In each of these cases, the Attorney General is seeking temporary, preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief against the defendants, along with restitution for victims, civil penalties, attorney fees, and other relief.

"Each of these cases is a perfect example of why we have a price gouging statute in North Carolina," said Attorney General Josh Stein. "These out-of-state operators inflate their prices to take advantage of people's vulnerability as they try to cope with the effects of Hurricane Florence. It's heartless, illegal, and my office will not allow it."

Action Tree Pros

In the first suit, two Kentucky-based tree cutting services, Action Tree Pros and Premier Landscaping and Lawn Care, charged excessive prices for tree removal services, including $29,500 to remove one tree. Kentucky resident and Action Tree Pros owner Nick Downey estimated $5,000 to do tree removal work on a property, but after the work was done submitted a bill for $10,565. After this, the property manager ordered Downey not to work on any of the other properties she managed. Downey ignored this and contracted with co-defendant Premier Landscaping and Lawn Care, LCC, to take down other trees at excessive prices. This included the $29,500 tree mentioned above. In total, the defendants charged homeowners $78,865.02 for a total of five trees. Premier Landscaping and Lawn Care is owned by Jeremy Bugg, also of Kentucky.

Scotts Tree Service

The other suit, filed against Scotts Tree Service, alleges that the company charged homeowners an excessive amount for tree removal, added inflated price figures to a previously signed statement of work, and sent a falsified estimate to a debt collection agency. Goldberg & Donovan, Inc., the debt collection agency, is named as a co-defendant in the suit, does not have a permit to collect debts in North Carolina, and is alleged to have harassed the homeowner.

Scott Lacey and Randy Shannon, who operate Scotts Tree Service, an Ohio company, billed homeowners in Castle Hayne $14,500 for tree removal services. They came to this price without permission from or discussion with the homeowners. The lawsuit alleges that Scotts Tree Service had one of the homeowners sign a statement of work to be done, and later filled in the document with a $14,500 price the homeowner had not agreed to pay. After the homeowner refused to pay this invoice, Scotts Tree Service sent the invoice to a bill collector, the co-defendant Goldberg & Donovan, Inc., a Massachusetts company.

Amy Lombardi, aka Amy Paulk, and Stephen Lombardi, who operate Goldberg & Donovan do not have the proper registration or permit to operate in North Carolina. The suit also alleges that they engaged in prohibited debt collection tactics, including pretending to be an attorney, harassing the homeowners, and making threats. These actions would violate North Carolina's Collection Agency Act.