by: Jim Strickland Updated:ATLANTA,None —
State agents are working hard to enforce a new law passed following a Channel 2 Action News investigation into unscrupulous roofers, and recently invited Channel 2 cameras to take part in an elaborate sting.
Roofers are no longer allowed to pay storm victim's insurance deductibles or file claims on their behalf following an investigation by Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said he wanted to send a message and asked to use Channel 2 cameras to help. Undercover state agents targeted Ronnie Baker and several other roofers on
orders by Hudgens. State officials say Baker advertised a promise that sent up immediate red flags, "Storm victims pay zero deductible."
"We're trying to get the bad actors out," Hudgens told Strickland.
To set up the sting, the state rented a house and first brought in a certified inspector. Channel 2 and the Fraud Squad with the Insurance Commissioner's office had separate hidden cameras.
"It's in good condition. There is no hail or storm related damages," certified inspector Frank Domonousky told Strickland after he looked at the house.
"Over here there is no damage, not a single mark," Domonousky said on top of the roof.
arrived, cameras showed him doing more measuring than inspecting. He claimed the house needed a new roof and offered to a bargain. "Don't tell them I'm paying your deductible or they'll just deduct that from us. Legally I can't do that," Baker told the undercover agents.
Baker returned later to photograph the supposed damage. Channel 2 was there and recorded the front and back of the house and watched as Baker dug his finger into the shingles. Baker did it over and over again, each time ending with a chalk mark for the insurance company. Baker even took a bolt from the TV antenna on top of the house and used that to twist into a shingle and manufacture damage.
The roof deemed hail free by an
inspector suddenly appeared to be a peppered and pelted mess.
"You can see how big that area is and it is where the granules have been scraped away," said Billy Sullivan, lead agent of the undercover operation.
Baker insisted the damage was there and he was only making it easier to see.
"I'm not a crook. I don't have to. I don't have to commit a crime to get paid," Baker told Strickland as he was being handcuffed by undercover agents. "I think it's outrageous." Baker said.
Baker was not the only one.
"Man, I'm just glad you're covering this damn deductible for me," said an undercover agent to one of the roofers.
"Oh yeah, that is no
problem, man," said Daniel Barry, another roofer who showed up for an inspection.
Barry and Kenneth McKenzie work for American Roofing Co. Barry actually used a penny to scratch off the granules on the shingles.
"That's where the granules on the shingles actually took off the copper off the penny. It's manufacturing hail damage," an agent showed Strickland afterward.
When agents moved in, McKenzie denied manufacturing storm damage.
"What's your reaction to your arrest?" Strickland asked McKenzie.
"I have no
idea. It's quite a surprise to me," replied McKenzie.
When asked what they were doing on the roof and why the used the penny, Barry replied, "I saw the damage there and I was trying to open it up to where it was more visible."
Domonousky told Strickland it is more like vandalism.
"He actually rubbed right through the shingle to the fiber backing on the bottom half, and basically damaged this shingle for life," said Domonousky.
Hudgens told Strickland felony fraud charges against all three roofers caught allegedly roughing up the roof will stand.
"When it's not prosecuted the message doesn't get out and it says it's perfectly OK to defraud an insurance company. Well it's not," Hudgens said.
Three roofers whose inspection did not warrant arrest will get warnings for the promises to pay the deductible.
In addition to the three arrested for felony insurance fraud, investigators are still gathering evidence against a fourth roofer.
The insurance commissioner's office told Strickland that 12 to 18 percent of the money homeowners pay in premiums goes to cover the cost of fraud.