Attorney General and Division of Consumer Affairs Obtain Temporary Asset Freeze in Arkansas, Stop Paving Company Defendants From Getting Proceeds Following Auction of Assets
NEWARK - The defendants who operated a South Jersey paving company and were ordered to pay $17 million in civil penalties, consumer restitution and reimbursement for attorneys' fees and investigative costs after a New Jersey court found they had defrauded consumers, have been temporarily barred by an Arkansas judge from obtaining the cash raised through a voluntary auction of the company's assets in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Upon learning of the auction of assets connected to Williams Asphalt Materials, LLC, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Kant, of the Division of Law's Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, traveled to Arkansas and made an application to prevent the turnover to the defendants of the cash generated by the auction in order to attempt to secure the funds for the $285,744 in restitution owed to New Jersey consumers.
Arkansas Circuit Judge John Fogleman initially issued a temporary injunction on March 30, 2012, the night before the auction, freezing the proceeds of the auction, which was to be conducted on behalf of defendant Henry Williams. Later that night, to avoid the State's judgment, associates of the defendants attempted to remove the property that was to be auctioned. After they were arrested by Jonesboro police, the defendants changed the auction contract just hours before it was to take place, listing five new sellers who were not defendants in New Jersey, but are relatives or associates of defendant Henry Williams.
"This case shows the extent to which some defendants will go to avoid their legal obligation to repay the consumers that they have harmed. It also shows our determination to go after these bad actors and hold them responsible,” State Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said.
On Monday, April 9, DAG Kant appeared in court in Jonesboro to argue that the auction proceeds are due to New Jersey's consumers and would disappear if obtained by the defendants or their associates. DAG Kant also argued that the change to the auction contract the night before the auction and just after Judge Fogleman issued the temporary injunction constituted a fraudulent conveyance. At that time, Judge Fogleman ruled that all of the auction proceeds should be frozen for sixty days to preserve the funds while their destination is determined.
Attorney General Chiesa thanked the Arkansas Attorney General's Office for its assistance, which included sponsoring DAG Kant's pro hac vice (for this matter only) court appearance in Arkansas, and sending staff to attend the court hearing in Jonesboro. The Arkansas Attorney General's Office has also filed an action against Henry Williams and his Arkansas limited liability company, Moore Asphalt, LLC.
"Our intention is to get as much money as possible back into the hands of the consumers,” said Sharon Joyce, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. "I want to commend DAG Kant for his tenacity in monitoring this matter and for working to ensure assets are not covertly diverted instead of being used to satisfy the restitution that is owed.”
Last December, a State Superior Court Judge in Burlington County found that defendants Williams Asphalt Materials, LLC, Williams Asphalt Paving, Williams Asphalt Paving & Excavating, Williams Paving & Excavating, Williams Paving, and Williams Paving Asphalt Contracting, Advanced Asphalt Services, Bertha Williams, Henry R. Williams, Jr. (father), Henry R. Williams, Jr. (son), Samuel Williams, Saul Williams, and Alexander Stanley violated the state's Consumer Fraud Act and Home Improvement Contractors' Regulation Act and regulations.
More than 1,600 violations were found to have been committed against consumers who paid to have their driveways repaved.
The Division's investigation found that the defendants engaged in unconscionable commercial practices, made false statements or misrepresentations, knowingly omitted material facts, and engaged in "bait-and-switch" pricing. The unconscionable commercial practices included performing paving work of poor or sub-standard quality and then failing to make the necessary repairs and failing to honor guarantees or warranties provided in a consumer's home improvement contract.
The misrepresentations included representing to consumers that the asphalt to be used in paving work was of a certain thickness (e.g., 2½") and then laying asphalt that was measurably thinner (e.g., less than 1"), and representing to consumers that the products or materials to be used in the paving work were sufficient to withstand the weight and traction of motor vehicles, when such was not the case. Driveways that should have lasted years began to disintegrate within months.
Senior Investigator Katrina Eberly of the Burlington County Office of Consumer Affairs and investigators in the Division's Office of Consumer Protection investigated this matter.
Consumers who suspect a charity or business has violated New Jersey's consumer protection laws can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs online or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
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