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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > August 2023 > ‘Consumer Protection Up Close’

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‘Consumer Protection Up Close’

Consumer Protection Up-Close examines and explains cases filed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section.
In May 2023, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge dropped the hammer on a northeast Ohio home-improvement contractor who repeatedly broke Ohio’s consumer protection laws, ordering him and his company to pay $2.4 million in restitution and civil penalties.
Judge Michael Russo assessed the maximum civil penalties possible – $1.775 million, or $25,000 for each of 71 violations – against Neil Wolfe and Neil Construction.
“The judge’s decision says it all, imposing the maximum civil penalties allowed,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “This should serve as a strong deterrent to any business owner who thinks they can get away with stealing from Ohioans.”
The final judgment resolved the state’s lawsuit against Wolfe and Neil Construction, filed in February 2021, and brought to a close a case in which Wolfe was twice held in contempt of court for failing to follow court orders.
The lawsuit stemmed from an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section that found that Wolfe took customers’ down payments for home-improvement work but did not perform any work or performed shoddy or incomplete work. He also failed to obtain permits, failed to register as a contractor, wrote unfair and one-sided contracts, and stalled and evaded other legal obligations.
In October 2021, Judge Russo issued a preliminary injunction order against Wolfe and, at the request of Yost’s office, appointed a receiver to oversee Neil Construction. The receiver was to have complete oversight over Wolfe’s business, forbidding him to, for example, sign contracts on his own. By March 2022, after Wolfe had repeatedly flouted the judge’s rulings, Russo ordered him to cease all operations, and the receiver proceeded to permanently shut down Neil Construction.   
In winding down the business, the receiver determined that consumers were owed $663,300, but the company had assets totaling only about $37,000 for distribution. The judge’s restitution order against Wolfe personally – $625,873 – covered the difference.
Wolfe is currently serving three years in prison for a criminal theft conviction in a separate case involving a consumer he defrauded.
Before signing a home-improvement contract, consumers are advised to make sure that
  • All project financing is pre-approved.
  • You have checked with local officials to see whether any permits are required for the project.
  • The contractor has given you references, which you have checked.
  • The contractor has shown you proof of licenses, insurance and bonding. State law does not require home-improvement contractors to be licensed, but many Ohio cities do.
  • You have checked with the local Better Business Bureau at and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for any complaints on file against the company.
  • You have received at least three written estimates from three contractors.
  • You always ask for the manufacturer’s warranty in writing on items such as siding, windows, roofing materials, and heating and cooling equipment.
Avoid entering into a home-improvement deal unless it is in writing and is signed by both you and the contractor. The contract should detail all of the necessary information for completing the work, such as:
  • A complete description of the work to be done, time frame, and the materials to be used.
  • A provision requiring written approval for any changes.
  • A clear statement explaining any contractor guarantee or warranty, and all of the contractor’s oral promises.
  • A provision stating the total cost for the work and the specific terms for payment of materials and labor.
  • A provision that does not require you to pay attorney’s fees, court costs, or damages in case of a dispute or cancellation.
  • A requirement for the contractor to obtain all necessary permits and inspections.
Remember, too, that the contract should not have a requirement for a large down payment or payment in full until the project is complete and has been inspected. Make sure the contract does not include a mandatory arbitration clause, which means you waive your right to sue.
Ohioans who suspect unfair or deceptive business practice contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.