On February 15, Lauren Hibbert, Director of the Office of Professional Regulation, testified before the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. She suggested rather than imposing a costly registration scheme on Vermont’s working-class contractors, a good starting point would be to “fix the dead link on the attorney general’s website” which is supposed to provide a list of individuals convicted of home improvement fraud since 2005. Almost 2 months later, and the link remains dead (just try clicking on “Home Improvement Fraud,” then “State registry” link on that page).*
H.157 would create a fee-based registry for Vermont’s small contractors, based on the theory that home improvement fraud is a massive problem and consumers don’t have a good way to protect themselves.
Given committee chair Michael Sirotkin’s concern about Vermont consumers facing fraud on home improvement projects, one would assume he would have contacted the Attorney General two months ago upon hearing Hibbert’s testimony, and that his request would have been prioritized (which it clearly wasn’t – if he made such a request).
But keeping the Attorney General’s website updated isn’t the primary responsibility of Hibbert or Sirotkin. That’s the responsibility of Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan. Who is of course, also in favor of H.157, “when you talk about creating just this light-touch registry, it’s very simple, you’re just giving Vermonters information so they can make an informed choice.”
But there is another foul up in the system, one that isn’t the fault of Donovan’s office. Hibbert makes her second complaint quite clear: “The office of the attorney general has a consumer protection division with broad authority to go after fraud and fraudulent activities. And on top of that, we have what I think is described in the Sunrise Report as a ‘robust criminal law,’ which addresses this behavior. So you have the Attorney General’s office and the 14 state’s attorneys… enforcing the law with some success. But the problem is repeat offenders. There are post-conviction remedies in that law, but it does not appear that those are being pursued.”
The Vermont law in question “requires individuals convicted of either fraudulent acts related to home improvement or felony level home improvement fraud to either file a $50,000 bond with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office or abide by certain notice requirements if they want to continue engaging in home improvement activities for compensation.”
Hibbert continues, “The report indicates that repeat offenders are the problem. So they’re not posting the bond that’s required. I don’t know if they’re paying the fines that are imposed or how many are imposed, I don’t know if they’re doing criminal time in corrections.”
A quick review of the AG’s fraud registry shows several names making multiple appearances: Paul Kearse with 5 counts of fraud from 2014-16, Norman Bevins with 7 counts of fraud from 2009-18, and Leonard Percy for 10 counts of fraud between 2009-12.
It becomes quite evident that Vermont’s government officials have the tools and personnel to deal with home improvement fraud, without passing H.157. Perhaps if they used these tools with a little more vigor, Vermont consumers would be protected from fraud and government officials wouldn’t have to build another tool that could end up never being
It’s a little ironic that the only way a prospective home improver can find the Vermont attorney general’s list of fraudsters is by Googling it. As Vermont’s government slacks off in preventing fraud, Google and the private sector are left to pick up the slack.
To watch Hibbert’s February testimony click here. Roll Call House vote on H.157 (2021)
The author is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute.
It is interesting that the Attorney Generals list of fraudsters does not include and companies or Corporations. Why is that?
Good point. The list should include a ‘dba’ designation, i.e., ‘doing business as’.
The list doesn’t indicate whether or not a fraudulent contractor is a company or corporation. I suspect many of those on the list operate as incorporated businesses. After all, it doesn’t matter whether or not a fraudulent person operates as a corporation, sole proprietorship, partnership, or any of the myriad forms of business there are out there. What matters is that they’ve been designated as fraudulent, and if a consumer considers any of them for a project, caveat emptor.
In my opinion, we can rack this up to the Attorney General’s incompetence – not knowing how to present the data to best benefit the consumer. But what else is new. Just look what happened with the Jay Peak/Newport EB-5 fraud. The reason the Attorney General isn’t more precise is because he’s protecting government cronies, of which he is clearly a member.
if information is old, that may not be fair to current owners
just fix the site you already have and keep it updated……sounds like Lauren Hibbert has some common sense, which is sorely lacking in the rest of this state’s politicians ……
I’ve been saying this for a while. Vermont needs to enforce the laws we already have without making new ones, especially ones that penalize honest businesses.
One of example of many of how inefficient and wasteful our State government is and we pay for it. If a business was run like the State, it would be out of business in short order. Yet, the State has an endless stream of taxpayer money and when they can’t manage with that money, they raise taxes and fees and waste even more.
This is an indication that any proposed registry of contractors is NOT intended for the benefit of consumers, but simply to provide more hassles and bureaucracy for the contractors and revenue for the demoprogs to spend stupidly.