Homeowners say they were ripped off by basement finisher

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Dozens of irate homeowners say they gave a local business thousands of dollars to finish their basements, but it failed to finish any of their jobs. (WPVI)

Dozens of irate homeowners say they gave a local business thousands of dollars to finish their basements, but it failed to finish any of their jobs.

The company is Basements 4 Less; the company also goes by the names J&G Basements and CLJ Home Improvements.

In December 2013, the Belleros of Robbinsville, New Jersey hired Basements 4 Less to build them the finished basement of their dreams.

But that dream is still a fantasy.

The Belleros tell the Action News, Charlie Johnston, the owner of Basements 4 Less, promised the job would be completed within three months. It's now been 10 months and the Belleros say they paid Johnston $10,700.

And this just did not happen to the Belleros.

Nearly two dozen frustrated and angry Basements 4 Less customers are sharing their stories after meeting on a website set up by Li Ma of Monroe, New Jersey.

"We need help. Nothing's been done," Ma said.

Customers tell Action News they paid Johnston anywhere from $9,000 to more than $15,000, which was most of the agreed-upon total price.

"It's depressing to see the basement in that way and realizing what plans we had for that and for the kids to play there," Gyanesh Ranjan of Princeton, New Jersey said.

"I think he never intended to finish the job," Evelyn Matus of Hamilton, New Jersey said.

Kashmiraa Raman of West Windsor, New Jersey says when Johnston was told she was battling stage 4 breast cancer, he promised to finish their basement in three weeks. That was more than a year ago.

"I feel angry. Frustrated," Raman said.

Action News confronted Johnston and told him customers were feeling they paid far more than the work he actually did.

Johston replied, "That's not the case in a lot of these cases. It's just not."

But while Johnston can't seem to finish all of these customers' basements, he is taking on new jobs.

When Action News submitted a request, Johnston responded immediately, promising to "start the job right away as soon as we can get the permit" and be finished in "4 to 6 weeks."

We asked Johnston, "How can you say you can complete a job within 4 to 6 weeks when you have all these people whose jobs still aren't finished from a year ago?"

"Because at the time I started these jobs, I didn't have the manpower. I'm back to not where I once was, but I'm back on to manpower now and I have the guys and the subcontractors who can do it," Johnston said.

Johnston also says he's been in business for 20 years and plans on staying in business.

We asked, "So you promise us if these people want their jobs finished, you will finish them now?"

"If they ask me to? Absolutely," Johnston said.

Johnston disagreed with the very long list of customers who claim he ripped them off.

"Well, I haven't ripped anybody off. I got to be honest with you. My business in the last year has really struggled and I'm doing everything I can to turn it around. I'm doing everything I can to satisfy as many of my customers," Johnston said.

A few of Johnston's customers are holding out hope.

"I just want my basement finished and done," Raman said.

Action News contacted Mercer County and we're told its Consumer Affairs office has received 29 complaints on Basements 4 Less and its Prosecutor's office has launched a criminal investigation.

The homeowners we interviewed said they did their homework before hiring Basements for Less. For instance, many of them checked online reviews and called references.

Michael Bellero says one thing he's learned from his experience is to check recent references and reviews.. He says he's learned the hard way that sometimes businesses can change.

If you believe you've been a victim of Basements 4 Less, you should file a complaint with your county prosecutor's office.

The Mercer County prosecutor's office tells Action News that consumers should file complaints with their prosecutor's office in the county in which they reside, not necessarily where the business is located.

You should also file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. LINK: http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/comp.htm

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