KENT, Wash. -- La Reine Callahan of Kent wasn't even planning a home upgrade until a contractor stopped by last October.
"He asked me if I would like my driveway redone for $4,000 because it was all cracked and everything, and I thought, well, that sounds pretty reasonable,” said Callahan.
The contractor sketched it out on a piece of paper. But before doing the driveway, he suggested replacing her rotting carport for another $3,000. After he framed up the carport, “I thought, wow, this guy does good work,” said Callahan.
The contractor’s name was John Taufa and he was ambitious. Soon, Callahan had agreed to a long list of improvements, from brick-lined walkways to backyard landscaping.
"He started mid-October, and I thought it was going to be done by late October," said Callahan. She paid for it all up front -- $25,000 in cash.
“I had it in my savings and about $10,000 I took out against my credit cards,” she said.
“You went into debt?” we asked.
“Yes, I did. I’m still paying,” she said.
Paying for what? He tore out her driveway but never poured the cement. He built some planters in front of her house and replaced her grass, but left most of the projects unfinished. And the last time Taufa showed up?
“I would say first part of November, last year,” Callahan said.
“November?” we asked. “It’s March now.”
“I know,” she said.
Callahan's neighbor Nickie, who asked us not to use her last name, hired John Taufa too.
“We originally had given him around $8,000 and he did a portion of the work so we're probably out $3,000 to $4,000,” Nickie said.
“Is that a lot of money to you?” we asked.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” she said.
Taufa did pave the driveway and started some other projects, but then it was one no-show after another for months.
“It just makes you sick and it just goes on and on and on, because you want to believe what he's telling you, but the reality when it sets in, you realize that you've been conned,” said Nickie.
Old dog, same trick
So earlier this month, Nickie contacted the KING 5 Investigators. The “unfinished work” scenario was familiar to us and so was the contractor’s name. That's because four years ago, the KING 5 Investigators exposed an unscrupulous contractor from Kent.
His name wasn't John, it was Sione Taufa.
We showed Callahan our 2007 reports on Sione Taufa, an unregistered contractor with a history of trouble.
“That’s him,” she said.
“Are you sure?” we asked.
“Yes,” she said.
John Taufa is really Sione. Four years ago, the KING 5 Investigators exposed him and his trail of unfinished projects going back more than a decade.
Callahan was stunned.
“That I actually fell for his line, that I believed him,” she said.
Nickie recognized Taufa too. We showed her our 2007 report where he completed portions of some jobs, but left huge portions unfinished and then stopped showing up.
“That's exactly what he did to us, exactly,” Nickie said.
We tried to find Taufa at his job sites, but he never showed up. We tried him at his home in Kent, but no one opened the door.
Taufa eventually called the reporter and offered the same excuses we heard four years ago -- that he was just running behind schedule.
“How can you take money from people and not do the work?” we asked.
“No, we are just kind of behind. We will get over there,” he said.
Taufa has already done jail time for skipping out on jobs. In 2004, he was convicted of seven counts of unregistered contracting and spent 27 days in jail. In 2007, a judge ordered him to spend five days in jail for failing to make court ordered restitution payments to his victims.
Taufa is slowly paying court-ordered restitution to his past victims at a rate of about $100 dollars a month each. But he owes thousands.
He also owes the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries $57,000 in fines for working without a registration and for unpaid Industrial Insurance.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t believe he’s done this for so long, to so many people,” said Callahan.
Labor & Industries didn't know Taufa was working again until we told them. They said they that had not received any recent complaints.
Since the KING 5 Investigators exposed Taufa in 2007, the law has been toughened to make “Unregistered Contracting” a gross misdemeanor instead of a simple misdemeanor. That means Taufa could be looking at up to a year in jail if he’s prosecuted for leaving homeowners in the lurch again.