Kitchen confidential! Customers say Slope contractor is a Madoff-style scammer

The Brooklyn Paper
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Is he a con artist or just a contractor caught in a down economy?

At least eight irate customers think Brian Ackerman, owner of Brooklyn Kitchens and Baths in Park Slope, is a rip-off artist — a Bernie Madoff of home repair who runs a Ponzi scheme that dupes clients into paying up front and in cash for work that does not get done.

The eight victims say they’re owed around $60,000 for incomplete or shoddy renovations — and they’re pursuing a legal case.

“We’re considering a multi-pronged attack through criminal actions, the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Consumer Affairs, while also reaching out to more people who have had same issue,” said lawyer Audrey Roth. “We’ll show this is his regular way of doing business.”

Ackerman does not deny that he hasn’t completed work on some clients’ houses, but insists he was not trying to screw anyone over — he’s just going through tough times.

“I lost my shirt, there is no hiding it,” said an exasperated Ackerman. “There was no motive to hurt anyone. I never lied to anyone.”

Ackerman’s legal woes are also no mystery. He has three pending cases in Brooklyn and Queens civil court, as well as two others that were resolved in 2007.

Last week, one spurned customer won $3,000 in small claims court against Ackerman, who did not appear in court, according to the plaintiff.

Roth and others said they were not as concerned about reimbursement as about stopping Ackerman from reeling in new customers with what they described as an irresistible blend of charisma, charm and big talk.

“There ought to be consequences for taking peoples money and not giving them what they’ve paid for,” said Roth. “There are people who have holes in their houses and can’t get certificates of occupancy because the work isn’t done.”

Anyone who has had any work done in his home knows that the process is often more expensive and more time-consuming than first predicted. But one of Ackerman’s customers, Gerard Feil, said the problems that the group experienced was not part of the typical tension from home renovations.

“All contractors do some of this stuff, but Brian is way over the top!” said Feil, who says he is owed $5,300. “Every single day is another call with excuses and lies.”

But Feil is not even close to being Ackerman’s biggest critic.

Sandy McCallion says she paid around $30,000 starting in June of 2008 for renovations of her Prospect-Lefferts Garden home that is still in a state of disrepair.

McCallion was so upset that she hired Roth to begin looking into Ackerman’s business practices. Roth said she quickly found evidence that McCallion’s unfinished living room and bathroom was not an isolated incident.

One person, Denton Taylor, had set up a Web site called “Why Brooklyn Kitchens?” that harshly criticizes the renovator, while also admonishing would-be customers, “If you value your sanity, DO NOT give Brooklyn Kitchens a penny of your money. You will regret it.”

The site also features an assortment of e-mails from customers who echo others’ complaints.

A forum on the blog Brownstoner, also started by Taylor, features even more tirades from customers.

“I firmly believe that Brian is a sociopath whose lies have gotten the best of him,” reads one vicious post.

Roth was so surprised by the perceived pattern of bad business that she organized a support group of sorts, which held its first meeting last week.

“I actually said, ‘Hi, my name is Sandy. I’m a lawyer and I’m stupid,’ ” recalled McCallion, who attended Yale Law School.

Another person, who wished not to be named for fear of retribution from Ackerman, was struck by the pedigree of all the participants at the meeting.

“All of us were profession­als,” said the customer, who claims she was screwed out of roughly $1,000. “We were all stunned that we had been so deceived!”

Ackerman was shocked by the ire of his clients.

“It makes me look like a thief!” Ackerman said. “I’m literally broke! After all the favors I did for those people! I satisfied hundreds and hundreds of customers. It all falls apart now because I’m in financial trouble. I’m going to need to get someone to help me build my rep again.”

A sign in the window at Brooklyn Kitchens and Baths says that the business is closed but will reopen soon.

Updated 12:17 pm, February 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

b from brooklyn says:
Definition of Ponzi scheme: Investment swindle in which high profits are promised & early investors are paid off from funds raised from later ones.

Let's not just start using this term for everything that involves people losing money!
Feb. 10, 2010, 10:57 am
Peg from park slope says:
I ordered cabinets from him and he delivered them and I paid the balance. Some minor faulty stuff but over all, not too bad. Kitchen renos pretty much blow and your life is in chaos so I've learned to keep track of the important stuff and let the small stuff go. But here's the thing: about three months later, he had a woman I'd never worked with call and she insisted I owed him an additional $5000. At first, I was bewildered. I went back and checked my receipts. I owed him nothing. I told them so. Two weeks later, they called again. I went through my payments with them on the phone. Then, two weeks later, same thing again.He insisted that I owed him $5000. I realized that he thought I was some scatter-brain, which I am not and would pony up an additional $5000 if he insisted. Wrong. Bad business man.
Feb. 10, 2010, 11:47 am
H from Bay Ridge says:
Had the same problem. The worst part of my renovation. Utter aggravation. screaming and yelling daily for months. He was very nasty and always complaining that he was the victim.
Feb. 10, 2010, 1:52 pm
dt from park slope says:
"“It makes me look like a thief!” Ackerman said. “I’m literally broke! After all the favors I did for those people!"

We don't need no more stinking favors, you douche.
Feb. 10, 2010, 4:52 pm
RL from Brooklyn says:
"I’m going to need to get someone to help me build my rep again.”

Brian, I'll gladly help you build your rep. Hell, if you pay in full, in cash, up front, I'll knock off five percent for ya. As soon as I get payment, I'll have one of my guys over in two hours and fix your rep. I promise.
Feb. 10, 2010, 5:45 pm
CD from Park Slope says:
He never lied. I was promised my goods at least 20 times, took time off from work because it would be there "first thing in the morning", etc., etc.. I am going to join the group. This guy is nuts
Feb. 10, 2010, 9:18 pm
Audrey from Boston says:
i've talked to this guy--he's a liar, plain and simple. If you'd like to join this group, e-mail me at Happy to be in touch with any additional victims. RL--I love your post!
Feb. 10, 2010, 10:12 pm
K says:
I used to do some sub-contract work for this guy too. He don't pay the balance when work is done. Luck for me. it is not a big amount. I cut him off right the way.
He is a thief.
Feb. 12, 2010, 3:20 pm
MG from Park Slope says:
The article is very accurate, in my judgment. This is not, I suspect, a new problem as Mr. Ackerman implies in his statements. But it certainly is not surprising that more complaints are surfacing in a down economy as Mr. Ackerman is not likely receiving sufficient new business to purchase the supplies and pay for the work on the pending jobs...

Years ago I had work done and there were unusual delays in receiving materials we had been promised earlier. What really made me suspect he was financially disorganized and sleazy was when it took me weeks and weeks to get reimbursed for an excess payment. I can't tell you how many times I was told: "The check is in the mail" with a convincing, heartfelt tone. After weeks it was clear that he was lying (and sounded almost as if he believed his own lies...) Only when I went by the store and waited in protest until I received a check did I get paid and then, of course, I decided not to get work done from Bklyn Kitchen and Baths ever again. I feel sorry for the current clients and hope his business remains closed.
Feb. 13, 2010, 7:43 pm
Cindy from Great Neck, NY says:
I grew up with Brian. He told me he had no health insurance for his kids. He asked to borrow $2000 and he would pay me back $2300. Okay. I gave it to him because I thought he was a friend. Then he needed another $1500 to pay someone who would get him $5000 to pay me back. This went on and on to the tune of...I can't even say how much he swindled out of me. Let's put it this way... my daughter's college money. I'd love to see him rot in hell...and if not, at least get my money back.
Jan. 13, 2011, 9:46 pm

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