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Contractor, lenders sued over scheme

Saturday, November 17, 2001

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

State Attorney General Mike Fisher announced yesterday that he was targeting a "home improvement and finance scheme that primarily targets lower-income consumers."

At a press conference in Erie, Fisher said that his bureau of consumer protection had filed suit against a well-known Pittsburgh contractor, an appraiser and several financial companies in Commonwealth Court.

The suit charged that they violated the state's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and other state and federal laws by engaging in deceptive practices that resulted in complaints filed in his office by more than 50 homeowners in Western Pennsylvania.

Named as defendants were Richard Brourman of Squirrel Hill; his mother, Bernice Brourman; one of his businesses, Iron City Builders; Mark Campisi of Butler, a principal in Bankers' Financial Services; USA Financial Services and Atlantic Credit Inc.; and James R. Caputo of Robinson, a principal in USA Financial Services.

Also sued were John Samchuck of Rochester, Beaver County, and Richard Metcalfe of Zelienople, Butler County, both agents and employees of USA Financial Services, and Reid A. Baker of Hampton, a certified real estate appraiser doing business as Baker Appraisers.

The suit claims the defendants engaged in a complicated scheme in which they advertised and sold home improvements and credit and mortgage banker services through telemarketing and in-home solicitations, but failed to complete the services or did shoddy work.

The suit also alleges that legal contracts were altered so that the customers' incomes and property appraisals were inflated so they could qualify for home improvement work that they could not afford.

Since 1995, the suit said, the USA Financial defendants worked in concert with Iron City Builders to procure home improvement loans secured by mortgages that made false representations which led many customers to default. The suit claims Baker, the appraiser, prepared false, misleading and inflated appraisals in order to permit the other defendants to obtain loans for which they should not have qualified in violation of various state and federal laws.

Barb Petitio, a spokeswoman for Fisher, said the victims were "predominantly low-income, with poor credit," who had homes that often were worth less than $30,000. She said they ended up with home improvement loans that were larger than the value of their houses.

Most of the contracts were from 1996 to 2000. She said the attorney general's office had received complaints from Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Erie, Forest, Huntingdon, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset and Venango counties.

The suit asks the courts to permanently enjoin the defendants from engaging in conduct that violates the Consumer Protection Law, to force them to make restitution and to impose heavy fines.

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