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When he books his own jobs, the trucker says, he charges customers only a $100 deposit and collects the balance when the car is delivered. When he was screwed over by Sclafani, did he ever consider keeping a car hostage? "No," he says. "Why would I do that, when my complaint is with him?"
Sclafani ducks the blows from his customers by assuming different identities. He tells callers or visitors that "Greg" is out and that they are speaking to "John." If others ask for "John," he appears to have stepped out, too.
But "John," according to the case files, has been known to take an even tougher line than "Greg" with oldsters whose health may literally depend on their getting their cars delivered on schedule.
Florence Katz's troubles with Sclafani started in typical fashion. Around New Year's, she planned her annual sojourn in Florida, where she rents an apartment for a couple of months near a friend in Coconut Creek, a town north of Fort Lauderdale that is home to the world's largest butterfly aviary. Katz let her fingers do the walking and called Sclafani about moving her car.
Sclafani told her, she says, that he "had a truck heading to Florida in a couple days" and that "there were only two spots left." To get onboard, she says, he told her she had better give him a deposit right away by telling him her checking account number.
"A lot of older consumers don't realize the dangers of paying directly from their bank account," says a spokesman for the AG's Office. "With a debit card or a credit card, you can call your bank and have them reverse a fraudulent charge. Not so with a bank payment."
ABK advertises that it takes credit cards, but many people have sworn that the company gives them one reason or another why it can't process credit-card payments the day they sign contracts. So, they are told to give their checking account number.
After being quoted a price of $630, Katz signed a contract with Sclafani. But even taking the full payment of $630 from Katz wasn't enough. Though she'd made no return plans, Sclafani helped himself to another $630 for that not-yet-scheduled trip back to New York, documents show. He also took another $630, for no known reason. All told, he took $1,890 from a widowed nurse on a fixed income.
Katz's car actually arrived in Florida without incident. But her problems were just beginning.
As Katz was ultimately to learn, Sclafani apparently failed to pay the trucker who had hauled the car to Florida. Another thing she didn't know at the time was how much he had overcharged her. Finally, she wasn't aware that he was already in deep trouble with AG Cuomo's office for swindling hundreds of other New Yorkers.
Sclafani had already been featured on Arnold Diaz's "Shame, Shame, Shame!" Fox 5 consumer-help segment twice—once as "A Blue Knight," and once as "A Eastern Connection."
If the absence of an "n" between "A" and "Eastern" wasn't enough cause for concern about the business, the presence of an "F" should be: With 285 complaints against it, that was ABK's rating from the Better Business Bureau—until it was downgraded a couple months ago from "F" to "Not Rated" and booted from the BBB entirely.
In March 2009, after receiving hundreds of complaints, Cuomo's office had begun to investigate Sclafani. By the time the AG formally filed a complaint on November 23 against Sclafani, his wife, and their variously named companies, alleging fraud and asking for restitution and damages, some 400 New Yorkers had come forward with allegations that they had been bilked.
A short time later, Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Bruce Cozzens issued the consent order and judgment. The Sclafanis had to pay $60,000 in restitution to customers and $65,000 in fees to the state, and they had to put up a $200,000 performance bond for possible future infractions.
Among other things, the Sclafanis were ordered to stop promising that vehicles would be delivered on specific dates and to stop double-dipping into their clients' bank accounts.
No chance. After Cuomo's office issued a press release this past February, announcing the court order because of "multiple fraudulent acts" and asking other customers who believed they also were ripped off by Sclafani to come forward, new complaints poured in.
Meanwhile, Katz ended her sojourn in Florida and flew back to New York. Her car was to follow, but the day her car was to be delivered to her by Sclafani's outfit came and went. A few more days went by. No car.
In mid-March, she spoke with Greg (or John), who was exceedingly polite to her: "He always spoke nicely. He kept telling me the car was coming, that it would just be a couple more days," she says.
Eventually, says Katz, Sclafani's wife started saying he wasn't in the office. Then ABK stopped answering its phone altogether.
Another week went by. Not knowing where else to turn, Katz called her local police precinct in Queens. A case like this immediately brings up jurisdictional headaches: She lives in New York City, Sclafani's company is in Nassau County, and her Honda was shipped from Florida. But a helpful Queens cop, in concert with police in Florida, tracked down her car.