Homeowner wants refund after contractor runs away with money

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - When you renovate your home or are looking to move into one, most people hire a contractor.

That’s what 52-year-old James Ortega did last September.

Ortega’s plan was to move to South Bend with his 4-year-old son, Oliver, and his wife, Kate, who was pregnant at the time. Before Ortega could get his dream home rolling, life suddenly stopped.

“I met my wife seven years ago and we got married, and she owned this house. When we met, we decided to move to California, and one year and one month ago, she passed away after delivering our baby girl,” Ortega said.

A baby girl who is now named after her mom, baby Kate is doing well. However, Ortega’s pockets is not.

To do an $11,000 job, Ortega paid $8,000 of it two weeks into the project.

Ortega says the money he used to renovate the house was from a GoFundMe account set up to help support his kids after his wife tragically passed away.

The job was supposed to be done in October, but instead of making the home move-in ready, the contractor took the money and never returned.

“The people that I hired to renovate the house knew my wife, they knew the family, I trusted them. You think when you know people and you trust them that you can count on them to fill a job,” Ortega said.

Trust. That is the word Better Business Bureau’s John Paschall says homeowners should be very careful with, especially when hiring a contractor.

“Before you do business with a contractor, you check the business out: Is it a business? Do they have a website? Do they have refund policies? Check them out through the BBB. Does the company, not just the contractor name, does the company have a report on the BBB? Are they accredited? Again, this is a lot of homework but worth it,” Paschall said.

Two kids, a new contractor and $15,000 later, Ortega sits in his now-finished home.

“For them to do what they did, it’s just not right. I don’t care what it takes, what I have to do, but I will do whatever it takes to get my money back,” Ortega said.

Ortega says he has reached out to the local contract group multiple times but has not seen a dime since they bailed on him last October.

Ortega says he recently has hired an attorney and will pursue legal action until he gets his money back.

To learn more about what you can do if you find yourself in a similar situation, visit BBB.org or tune into BBB Serving Northern Indiana on Facebook Live every Wednesday.