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NC licensing board to conduct criminal background checks after WBTV investigates contractors taking money, leaving work unfinished

WBTV Investigates has been asking for years why state regulators aren’t doing more to protect consumers
Investigative Reporter David Hodges has been tracking contractors who provided false information on their license applications with the state.
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 2:32 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - State regulators at the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors are essentially using the honor system when asking contractors about their past.

That’s how some contractors in WBTV Investigations have been able to get new licenses despite previous complaints or bankruptcies.

Now, that’s changing and it will mean major new protections the next time you search for a contractor.

WBTV Investigates has been asking for years why state regulators aren’t doing more to protect consumers.

WBTV Investigates has been asking for years why state regulators aren’t doing more to protect consumers.

Related: NC Licensing Board for General Contractors letting criminals, failed businessmen slip through

Finally, our questions are leading to major change.

North Carolina Senator Steve Jarvis authored a bill that was signed into law last year allowing the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors to conduct criminal background checks on applicants and charge them for it.

“I think we need to do that in the general contractor field,” NC Sen. Steve Jarvis said. “Because we don’t need a black eye on the industry.”

WBTV Investigative Reporter David Hodges asked Jarvis, “Do you think this will make a difference for consumers and help protect them more?”

“I think it will help the consumer in the end tremendously,” Jarvis responded.

Initially, the licensing board was not planning on changing its policy.

The law made criminal background checks voluntary, not mandatory.

Related: Licensing Board for General Contractors dodges WBTV questions after customers were ripped off

WBTV Investigative Reporter David Hodges has been tracking contractors who provided false information on their license applications with the state but were never caught until it was too late and they had already taken money from families for work that was never finished.

In December, WBTV did a story on Janet Hadjar, whose planned pool project was left a pile of dirt.

“We were believing his excuses basically and he said, ‘OK, we can get it done by the end of September,” Hadjar said.

Hodges: “And about how much have you paid out so far?”

“We’ve paid $33,000,” Hadjar said.

WBTV found nearly a dozen other homeowners like Hadjar who hired A&S Pools and Pavers.

However, the permits for those projects were pulled by Gabbidon Construction, owned by Leonard Gabbidon.

Attorney Laura Budd represents three clients, including Dr. Mukesh Nigam, who hired Leonard Gabbidon for new home construction more than a year ago – all with similar results.

“A lot of people that are going to end up with these big muddy holes in the backyard and absolutely no recourse,” Budd said.

“I came to realize that he was not paying subcontractors, so nobody was willing to come and work on my project or the house,” Dr. Nigam said.

“Nearly $1,000,000 between the three families” Budd added.

Gabbidon said he did not know about the owner of A&S pools taking money from consumers and not finishing pools or else “I would never have gone close to him.”

Regarding the homeowners suing him over the other three projects, Gabbidon said the owners changed permits and plans.

“I did not take their money. I built three beautiful homes,” Gabbidon said.

Gabbidon filed for bankruptcy in 2020 and all three families filed complaints against him and his company with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors.

But records show that those complaints still have not been heard more than a year after they were filed.

Since then, Gabbidon started a new company that was approved by the licensing board despite the pending complaints.

His ongoing financial issues were not caught by the board for months, despite all of the evidence being right at their fingertips.

And it’s not the first time.

WBTV Investigates previously reported the owner of Charlotte Fiberglass pools was granted a license despite not disclosing a bankruptcy on his application filing.

More than 40 customers lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

WBTV also discovered that the owner of GJK Building and Remodeling failed to disclose liens, bankruptcy and even pleaded guilty to a federal charge.

Later, he ended up stiffing subcontractors out of tens of thousands of dollars. Knowles later filed an accurate renewal form.

“That’s where an entity like the Licensing Board can come in and make a real difference but they’re going to need support from the General Assembly,” Budd said. “That’s a resource and funding issue.”

Now, after years of WBTV’s reporting and questioning, that’s finally happening.

After WBTV reached out to the licensing board again for this story, Director Frank Wiesner wrote:

“The Board has initiated the process to migrate its licensing database to a new software solution that can accommodate the background check. It is anticipated the configuration of the new software system will be completed by the end of April 2022. Once the new software is operational the NCLBGC intends to require criminal background checks for all new license applicants.”

One big question is whether these background checks will also reveal bankruptcies, judgments because, in WBTV’s reporting, we’ve found it much more likely for those issues to remain hidden than criminal history.

We’re still waiting on a response from the licensing board.

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