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Company sues Looks Great Services over Sandy contract

Rodney Qualls is among those who filed a

Rodney Qualls is among those who filed a complaint for unpaid wages with the U.S. Department of Labor after working a on a Sandy cleanup contract won by Huntington-based Looks Great Services Inc. Credit: Newsday / Sara Crichton

A Pennsylvania-based commercial landscaping company that supplied heavy equipment for a cleanup contract after superstorm Sandy is suing Huntington-based Looks Great Services Inc., claiming it broke state and federal laws when it failed to pay up.

Greenscape Landscape Contractor Inc. filed the federal lawsuit in New York's Eastern District court in November alleging breach of contract and seeking more than $216,000, plus interest and attorneys' fees.

The company claims Looks Great owes it the money after the Long Island contractor won a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contract last February to clean up debris based out of Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

Attorneys for Looks Great dismiss the lawsuit as baseless and in court documents indicate Looks Great will file a motion to have it dismissed.

Greenscape claims it was hired by IWing, of Georgia, to provide trucks, excavators, backhoes, front-end loaders and other heavy equipment as part of the Looks Great-Army Corps debris removal contract.

IWing, in turn, was hired by a North Carolina-based Atlantic Debris Services, which Looks Great had hired as a subcontractor.

IWing took on employees to work the project and Looks Great required these employees to wear shirts and hats emblazoned with the Looks Great name and logo, the lawsuit says.

In the early stages of the project, however, IWing was removed at the behest of Looks Great, according to the suit. Greenscape became concerned it would not be paid, but was repeatedly reassured by Looks Great and its principal Thomas Rankin, as well as by another Looks Great-contracted company, Bergeron Emergency Services Inc., of Florida, that it was still much needed on the job.

Bergeron, its principal Brian Thomason, Looks Great, Rankin, Atlantic Debris, its principal Charles Box and IWing are all defendants.

"In order to keep Greenscape and its vital equipment on the project, Looks Great by and through Rankin and Bergeron, by and through Thomason, directed ADS [Atlantic Debris Services] to make a good faith payment of $5,000 directly to Greenscape," says the lawsuit. Rankin, Thomason and Box all personally guaranteed payments due and owed to Greenscape would be assumed and honored.

In August, attorneys for Greenscape served Looks Great with a demand for a verified accounting of the project, seeking information on how much money the company had received for the project, how much was paid out, to whom and for what. After the contractor failed to respond within 10 days, Greenscape commenced the lawsuit, said the company's attorney Vincent Pallaci.

"Our position is that Looks Great is subject to New York State Lien Law and by failing to respond to our demand is legally presumed to have diverted the trust funds and must now pay those over to the beneficiaries, including Greenscape," said Pallaci, partner at Kushnick Pallaci PLLC of Melville.

It also argues Looks Great failed to comply with the Federal Funding and Accountability Transparency Act, which requires prime contractors to report information on subcontracts.

In court documents, Looks Great attorney Timothy Woodward of Florida-based Shutts & Bowen, said no written or oral contract existed between Greenscape and Looks Great, and that even if an oral contract existed, it would be unenforceable under fraud statutes.

In a Jan. 16 letter foreshadowing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Looks Great argued the claim was more properly brought as a class action and that Looks Great should not be subject to the trust fund accounting requirements of lien law because the work was a federal project.

The contract at issue has already drawn the eye of federal authorities. The U.S. Department of Labor has said it is investigating the underpayment of workers hired by subcontractors in a probe that is still ongoing.

Rodney Qualls, 45, a Florida native and truck driver/equipment operator is among those who filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor and says he is owed around $4,000, according to the department's analysis. The department has declined to comment while the case is still open.

Qualls and a colleague, Joshua Evans, 30, of Virginia, also a truck driver/equipment operator on the job, said they worked alongside from 40 to 50 other men from states as far away as Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina -- as well as with New Yorkers hired mainly as flagmen or laborers by a local temp agency. Evans has been told by a Labor Department official that he is owed around $4,000.

"I'd just like to see an end to it," Qualls said of the money he is owed. "I worked for the money and I'm owed it. I lost everything at that time because of the debts I incurred not having the money at the time. I want to move on."

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