A Shirley contractor has been charged with grand larceny for allegedly stealing $100,000 in NY Rising funds meant for a house elevation in Amity Harbor, authorities said Tuesday.
David Lizzol, of D & L Bathroom Remodeling, was hired to oversee the elevation as general contractor in April. Lizzol cashed the initial payment, but failed to do any work after paying himself a fee, spending $35,000 on another project and gambling away the rest, said Larry Norton, 67, who lives in the house with his 92-year-old mother Elinor Norton.
Lizzol, 42, represented by Legal Aid, was arrested Monday and pleaded not guilty in First District Court in Central islip to two counts of second-degree grand larceny, felonies punishable by a prison term of 5 to 15 years, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. A Legal Aid representative declined to comment Tuesday.
Lizzol, who did not post bail, is being held in the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead. His next district court date is Friday.
Suffolk County’s consumer affairs department revoked his license last month, ordering him to “cease and desist.” However, the websites for his company, are still up.
Norton learned recently that NY Rising, the state’s housing recovery program for flooded homeowners and those mandated or choosing to elevate their flood-prone houses, had approved his hardship claim seeking additional funds. NY Rising said it would talk to him about “next steps within the month.”
The Nortons said they hired Lizzol to oversee the elevation because he previously repaired their flooded home, where Elinor Norton has lived for 65 years. They signed a brief contract with Lizzol in April, with an expected start date in late May.
Norton said that after a summer of excuses, Lizzol admitted in September he’d spent the money and failed on a promise to return $60,000 by Halloween. Norton then went to Suffolk authorities, he said.
The house is still unelevated.
NY Rising does not pursue legal remedies in cases of alleged contractor fraud. A NY Rising spokesperson said those in the program understand “we are not involved in the selection of, or relationship with, the contractor.”
The agency advises homeowners with contractor disagreements to “contact law enforcement, small claims court, or pursue other legal remedies.”
Thus far, fraud has been determined by NY Rising in fewer than 10 cases of those seeking hardship claims, the spokesperson said.
Homeowners are advised to report suspected contractor fraud to NY Risings Fraud Hotline at 844-330-0008 and “then reach out to their case rep to discuss a demonstrable hardship; but with the awareness that according to our policy these are granted only in the most extreme and limited circumstances,” the spokesperson said.
Melissa Luckman, director of Touro Law’s disaster relief clinic, which provides free legal representation for hundreds of Sandy-affected households, said fraud is becoming a bigger issue now as projects drag on and homeowners despair of handling problems with contractors on their own.
“Nearly every person we speak with now has some kind of contractor fraud,” she said, noting that NY Rising had become more open to hardship claims in recent months. “I’m hoping they will take notice of how rampant this is.”
She added that without help “most of these people will never be able to close out their NY Rising account, will never be able to go home, they will never be able to get a certificate of occupancy to complete the project or sell the home.”
That, she said, will “lead to a less resilient Long Island for the future.”