Bay Shore firm fined $40,000 for deceiving Sandy victims, says AG

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A Bay Shore consulting and contracting firm that tried to drum up business by deceiving superstorm Sandy victims about possible cleanup fines now must pay a fine of its own, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Wednesday.

G.C. Environmental Inc. has agreed in a settlement to pay a $40,000 penalty, Schneiderman said in a news release.

The company sent letters to more than 2,000 homeowners that were made to appear like an official violation notice from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Recipients were falsely told they risked fines of up to $25,000 a day for failing to clean up oil spills on their properties, the attorney general said.

Schneiderman called it "unconscionable" for the company to prey "on the misfortune and fears of people recovering from the devastation of Sandy."

The state investigation found that the company violated New York's laws against deceptive business practices and false advertising, he said.

After Sandy struck on Oct. 29, 2012, New Yorkers reported more than 4,600 oil spills to the DEC, which entered the information in its public database.

On Dec. 10, G.C. Environmental started using the data to send marketing letters to 2,278 people, the attorney general said. Long Island property owners received 70 percent of the mailers; the rest went to Brooklyn and Queens.

As the DEC's telephone lines lit up, the agency had to issue a "consumer alert" to inform the public that it had nothing to do with the solicitation letters.

G.C. Environmental did not admit to the state's findings, but it has agreed to refund anyone who hired the company as a result of the letter. Those individuals are asked to contact the attorney general's office.

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The company did not return calls seeking comment.

President and owner Gregory Collins said in December that "an outside marketing consultant" sent the letter for the company.

"It was not our intention to cause concern or unnecessarily alarm the property owners, but merely to advise the owners of . . . the services of our firm," he said.

Schneiderman disputed that claim Wednesday. "The company participated in drafting, and was aware of and authorized, the text of the letter and its design," he said.

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