Oscar-winning actress' renovation nightmare

January 19, 2010 10:41:10 AM PST
She is an Oscar-winning actress who, for the last year, has been embroiled in a bitter legal fight with her contractor.She went to court and won, but still hasn't gotten her money back.

Her ongoing battle is something can every consumer can learn from, and one Eyewitness News has been following closely.

Last time, we spoke with Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal, she was at court trying to get her money back from contractor George Trapatsas.

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Jim Hoffer: "Twelve months to finish her bathroom."
Trapatsas: "It's taken quite a bit of time."
Hoffer: "Are you one of those..." (door slams)

Neal had given Trapatsas $50,000 to remodel her bathroom, but he never finished the job.

"You can see this enormous gaping hole," Neal's assistant, Jeanai Radcliffe said. "You see pipes."

Instead of being embarrassed by getting ripped-off, this Hollywood legend, who has starred alongside Paul Newman, John Wayne and Gary Cooper, got mad.

"I understand she was quite mad, and she came in and asked for help," New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz said. "She said you licensed this guy, what are you going to do about it?"

Mintz says because Neal used a licensed contractor, she was able to sue him in consumer court. She did and won. The judge found Trapatsas guilty of 17 violations, including "failure to maintain the standards of integrity" and "abandoning the work." He got hit with thousands of dollars in fines, was ordered to pay Neal $20,000 in restitution and his license was revoked.

"They won't work in New York again," Mintz said. "We threw the book at them, fined them for all the technical violations we found in the contract and, most importantly, the judge awarded almost $20,000 in restitution to Ms. Neal."

Eyewitness News caught up with the contractor a few weeks ago to see if he had paid up.

Hoffer: "Are you going to pay her the restitution she's owed?"
Trapatsas: "Sure."
Hoffer: "That's $20,000?"
Trapatsas: "Well, we're going to have to see when we can do it, cause we don't have the money right now."
Hoffer: "Why didn't you do it already? It's been months now."
Trapatsas: Well, we don't."
Hoffer: "You've owed her this money for several months now."
Trapatsas: "Yes, I know."
Hoffer: "When are you going to pay her?"
Trapatsas: "As soon as we can get some money together."

To that, Neal responded.

Hoffer: "We asked George if he were going to pay you back, and he said he would when he gets the money. What do you think?"
Neal: "I'd love it if he would."
Hoffer: "Are you counting on it?"
Neal: "Ummm, I wouldn't say I am."

Neal survived four decades in Hollywood and rose to the top in a man's world of movie directors and studio moguls. George the contractor should have known she was no pushover:

"I think it's terrible what he tried to get away with," she said.

"He almost did I think," she added with a laugh.

Some of the money Neal lost will be refunded by Consumer Protection, and a contractor who saw Eyewitness News' intial report ended up finishing the remodeling job.

If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at the.investigators@abc.com and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/NYCinvestigates.