I-Team: Unfinished basements

JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- They trusted a contractor with thousands of dollars of their hard-earned money, but now two suburban families are telling the I-Team that they were left with unfinished basements.

The carpenter in question is being investigated by the Illinois Attorney General. The AG's office calls him a "repeat offender" with some recent complaints where consumers say he takes money upfront, but does little or no work.

He's also facing criminal charges related to remodeling jobs. Consumers told the I-Team they may never get their money back but they want to warn people about the guy who took their cash.

Joliet residents Tim and Tina Andersen hired contractor Joseph Hisel, of J.H. Carpentry the day after Christmas. They say his workers put up a frame and some electric, but then stopped showing up about a month later. They say Hisel wouldn't return calls but that he did send these threatening texts. They filed this police report.

"We paid him $5,500 to start and we did another installment of $1,750 and that was as far as we got," said Tina Andersen.

The contract says they would have owed another $3,500 upon completion, but what the Andersens didn't know is that 46-year-old Joseph M. Hisel, also of Joliet, was convicted a theft charge in 2012.

Will County authorities also say he recently plead guilty to another theft charge in June in connection to a construction case, and Grundy County officials say he was recently indicted there on three felony counts related to $25,000 in home repair fraud.

The I-Team also found a Better Business Bureau warning, saying J.H. Carpentry has an "F' rating. It also says Hisel uses the business name "Decks N Moore" and this Facebook fan page for "Tyler Basements and Decks" advertises the same phone number that's on the J.H. Carpentry business card.

"Know he's going to come into your home and he's going to play the good guy, talk the talk, walk the walk and take your money and run," said Andersen.

Joliet resident Melissa Newberry says the same thing happened to her after signing a contract in November and writing checks to Hisel for almost $15,000. She says like the Andersens, she was left with a wood frame and an uncompleted job.

"We basically got excuses, 'I fell down off a roof', 'I broke my back'," said Newberry.

Her contract says she would have owed another $8,000 upon completion but when Hisel and his workers stopped showing up she was forced to hire another contractor, so her mother, with dementia could move in.

"And he shook my hand and said before he left, your mother will be very happy when it is done and I have nothing (crying)," said Newberry.

Hisel never responded to our calls, but we saw him on his porch with a case of beer.

ABC7's Jason Knowles: "Hi Mr. Hisel, Jason Knowles from the ABC7 I-Team. Can I ask you a couple of questions?"
Hisel: "Nope."
Knowles: "Did you leave people with unfinished basements?"
Hisel: "You can get off my property."

We remained off his property but still had questions. Hisel also refused to answer our questions about advertisements on Facebook to promote "finished" work. The I-Team found the exact same pictures on other company websites.
There are no statewide requirements to be licensed as a contractor. But the city of Joliet tells the I-Team he's not licensed where he and the homeowners live. Hisel is scheduled to be sentenced on his recent guilty plea of theft on September 24.

The best way to protect yourself is to pay in thirds: a deposit, another payment when the work is progressing and a final payment at the end. If you can, pay with a credit card so you can dispute charges if needed. You can also check company's records with the Better Business Bureau and other online review sites.
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