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KDKA Investigates: Local Victims Of Traveling Contractors Searching For Justice

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Every spring, it seems they arrive: itinerant contractors offering to seal your driveway or patch your roof. Instead, they do shoddy work, take your cash and disappear.

Most of the time in these cases, the damage is done and the contractors disappear in the wind. But some recent victims who reached out to KDKA say they won't rest until these contractors get their comeuppance.

"When this first happened, I was sick. Every time I came out here I wanted to cry," said homeowner Kim Hoffman of Kilbuck Township.

Several months ago, a company called Elite Sealing and Paving and its owner Vinnie Mitchell offered to repave Hoffman's carport.

"This was supposed to be two inches of asphalt with the aggregate, and it's just crumbling," said Hoffman.

Then $3,200 later, she ended up with rubble and a loose cover of asphalt. It's so detached, you can easily break off a piece. When she questioned Mitchell and a worker, they left and never returned, accusing her of intimidation.

"They started calling me hostile and started walking out of the driveway. They didn't want to talk to me anymore, and they became scared, as they said," said Hoffman.

Richard Lea says a similar thing happened when he hired Vinnie Mitchell to seal his driveway in Baldwin.

"Where you see it's darker there, he did spread some stuff on there but by the end of the winter it opened up again," said Lea.

Though he says he was suspicious when he noticed Texas license plates on Mitchell's pickup truck and when Mitchell insisted on cash only, Lea says he still paid him $400. He says Mitchell poured some oil-like fluid over the cracks, but they soon re-emerged. When he finally reached Mitchell on the phone to complain about the work, Lea says Mitchell told him he wasn't coming back.

"Then it became I threatened him. I said, 'I didn't threaten you.' I said I was going to call the Better Business Bureau. 'Well,' he said, 'I don't feel safe coming out there,'" said Lea.

For years, KDKA has done reports on transient workers who travel from the south purporting to be roof and driveway repair contractors. So far, the Better Business Bureau has no evidence Mitchell is one of these people.

"We received no reply from the company," said Warren King with the Better Business Bureau.

But the BBB is warning people to look out for the telltale signs. They include out-of-state plates, insistence on cash-only payments and not returning.

"Just like we can count on the Easter bunny coming at Easter, springtime is going to bring these contractors up along the east coast and go to various communities," said King.

KDKA tracked Vinnie Mitchell to a house he and his family have been renting in Bethel Park.

District Justice Ron Arnoni recently approved Mitchell's eviction from that home for non-payment of rent and extensive damage to the property. Court records show his family was also evicted from a house in Clairton for the same reasons last year.

While at the house, we caught a glimpse of a man believed to be Vinnie Mitchell, and his pickup with Texas plates was parked on the lawn, but he didn't come to the door.

Instead, a woman came to the door and KDKA's Andy Sheehan spoke to her through the doorway. He identified himself as a reporter from KDKA-TV and told her he was responding to complaints from some of Vinnie's clients.

"Could I talk to you about that?" Andy asked.

"No," she replied.

"What's that?" asked Andy.

"No. I don't give you the right to talk to me," she replied.

While we didn't get the answers we were looking for at Mitchell's home, Kim Hoffman is undeterred.

"They're just out to make a buck, take advantage of as many people as they can and move on," said Hoffman.

She sent a constable to Mitchell's eviction hearing who served him with a notice to appear in court for damages related to her driveway. And now Mitchell has been ordered to appear in district court Tuesday. KDKA plans to be there to see if he shows up.

"My goal is to stop them. Would I want to recoup my money? Absolutely. But ultimately I don't want to see this happen to somebody else," said Hoffman.

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