BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Florida man who convinced flood victims he was in Louisiana to help them has left one homeowner wondering if the $1,000 she paid him was for work that may now be worthless.
As if looking at debris piles every single time Sarai Rodriguez and her husband pull up to their house wasn't bad enough, the new homeowners are now dealing with perhaps an even nastier situation inside.
Their home is stripped to the studs. The walls are bare. Three and a half feet of water swallowed everything inside.
"You can actually kind of see right here where the water line is," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said she was one of the lucky ones. She has flood insurance. She said an adjuster told her to get a few estimates and the insurance company would soon cut her a check to help pay for the repairs.
Rodriguez said the first appraisal came from a man named Robert Palmer, the owner of a company called Son Bright Systems, according to invoices. It is located in Florida.
"He walked in, told me who he was, what company he was with, told me he was licensed and insured," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said because two of her neighbors told her they had hired him, she felt comfortable. Desperate to get started on the rebuilding process she said she also opened her doors.
"He said I still had a lot of humidity in my house and there's no way I could dry that on my own, that I will need probably bigger equipment and he had two dehumidifiers. So he gave me an estimate," Rodriguez said.
According to a document on Son Bright Systems letterhead, he quoted her $1,085. That amount was supposed to cover rental on two dehumidifiers at $75 a day for three days and nine air movers at $15 a day. It also lists some miscellaneous items like clearing building materials, cleaning the walls, prepping them for dry out and finally applying micro ban, a disinfectant used to kill mold and mildew.
Rodriguez showed The Investigators a receipt for the $1,000 cash deposit she gave him to begin work. She said once he got the money, his outlook on the repairs to her house instantly changed.
"He started telling me what else I had to do, that I had to take my sheetrock all the way up to the top, tear down my cabinets I had remaining there, removing everything and that the insurance needs to cover all that," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said a coworker suggested that she do a little background check on Palmer and Son Bright Services. She soon learned from the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors (LSLBC) that Palmer was not licensed to do work in the state.
LSLBC Executive Director Michael McDuff confirmed Palmer is not licensed to do work in Louisiana.
"In Louisiana right now, we have approximately 170 licensed, regulated mold remediation firms," McDuff said.
He said, in Louisiana, homeowners are allowed to clean, repair, and treat their own houses, but a contractor must be licensed to spray for mold.
"If you are a contractor from out of state, it does not matter if the work is under $7,500, if you are spraying a mold preventative or doing mold remediation, you need a license from Louisiana, correct?" asked reporter Cheryl Mercedes.
"Anything, a dollar or more, any remediation, you must be licensed and regulated in Louisiana," McDuff responded.
McDuff said contractors who are found guilty of breaking the law could be fined up to 10 percent of the contract estimate.
Rodriguez said when she confronted Palmer, he insisted he is legally permitted to do work in Louisiana.
"That's when he said you are not getting any refund, that I poisoned my neighbors by telling them he was not licensed," Rodriguez said.
She said Palmer picked up his equipment and never returned. She said she now has to come up with more money to pay a licensed contractor to finish the work.
"When a contractor comes in like this it's pretty devastating. You trust people and this happens," Rodriguez said.
Palmer admitted he is not certified to spray for mold and said he believes he did nothing wrong. Palmer said he worked on 20 flood-damaged homes over six weeks, and he has returned to Florida. He added the work on Rodriguez's home was complete before he left.
The public can check to see if a company is licensed to do work in Louisiana using LSLBC's website and its mobile app.