State accuses Bonney Plumbing of misleading, overcharging customers
Judge to determine if top-rated company will keep its license.
Below is an article from KCRA’s website about a local plumbing company.
The Better Business Bureau rates Bonney Plumbing an A+, and the company is one of the biggest plumbing contractors in Northern California — but KCRA 3’s investigative team has found the business may be in danger of losing its license.
The state of California is accusing Bonney Plumbing of deliberately misleading and overcharging customers.
Two years ago Leonard Granger was looking for a plumber. He needed to replace the water heaters at two homes. So he turned to Bonney, partially he says because the company is among the biggest of its kind in the Sacramento area.
“I saw their ads on TV and I listened to it on the radio,” Granger said. “When they said, ‘You can trust us from the very beginning — we’ll get the permits, we’ll go all the way through the job and conform with the state code and county code,’ and so forth, I thought, ‘Now that’s the outfit I want to work with.’”
The company is certainly high profile. The red-and-blue vans have been a staple since Mark Bonney started the company in 1978. Bonney Plumbing now has more than 100 of those vans, and 150 employees. The business promotes itself with ads on TV. The new pro soccer stadium at Cal Expo is even called Bonney Field.
With that pedigree, Granger hired the company to install the water heaters at his farm in Vacaville and another property in Dixon.
Receipts show Granger paid more than $2,000 for one job and about $1,800 for the other. Granger said Bonney’s employees told him Dixon city code and Solano County code both required expansion tanks to be installed with the water heater. He paid nearly $450 for both tanks.
“I’m not sure what that does,” said Granger, pointing out the tanks to KCRA 3. He added that he paid at least $150 for permits and “administrative fees” on each job.
“(Bonney Plumbing) did a wonderful job,” Granger said. “I have no complaints about the work.”
But months later, that all changed when Granger called the city of Dixon and Solano County to find out why his scheduled inspections hadn’t been completed.
“I called both offices and they looked through their files (and said), ‘We don’t have no reference of the work ever being done,’” Granger said. “’No permit ever permitted or anything.’”
Not only had the person doing the work for Granger not pulled the permits, but Granger building officials say he was charged more than he should have been.
Solano County officials told KCRA 3 that a permit for a replacement water heater should cost $100, not the $150 that Granger was charged for the permit and administrative fees.
For the permit in Granger’s Dixon home, the city said it normally costs anywhere from $36 to about $40. Bonney charged him $163 for the permit and administrative fees. This was on top of the cost of replacing the water heaters.
Bonney never pulled the permit for either job.
“Oh yes, it went from something like $1,300 to $2,000 with all the additional things they added on,” Granger said. “And I wasn’t aware of it. He says that’s all required.”
So, Granger filed a complaint with the Contractors State License Board. It turns out, he wasn’t the only one in a similar situation.
“In some cases, they actually charged the consumers for the permits and then never went and pulled them,” said Rick Lopes, with the board.
The board found Bonney never pulled the permits. It also found the expansion tanks that Granger was told were required for code compliance were not required by the city or county.
The state said the Bonney employees who did the work weren’t registered with the Contractors State License Board, either.
“These people are elderly and not always in the best care of their own faculties,” Lopes said. “And we’re concerned they (are) being taken advantage of.”
The board found three other cases, all of them involving customers older than the age of 80.
“What’s concerning to us about this (is), it looks (like) the work went beyond just the repair work,” Lopes said.
In one case, the state said a 94-year-old customer paid about $3,000 more for a water heater repair than what the state’s expert thought she should have been charged.
In another instance, an 80-year-old woman had her sinks and toilets clogged. After agreeing to replace her sewer line for just more than $6,000, the complaint alleges that her son stepped in — after Bonney had nearly completed the work — and stopped them. The board said this was because a Bonney employee said it would cost another $2,500 to finish.
None of the Bonney employees in these cases were registered with the Contractors State License Board, and in all four cases, the employees failed to pull the building permits.
“We’ve got evidence that leads us to believe that, you know, laws have been broken,” Lopes said. “And it deserves us taking a look at trying to take away the license.”
The board filed an accusation, the most serious action it can take, and referred the case to the state attorney general, who will plead the case before an administrative law judge.
“Our big concern here is to make sure that the people who were harmed receive restitution and that we make sure systems are in place,” Lopes said. “(We want) to make sure this doesn’t become a business practice — that we actually have things in place to make sure these kinds of things don’t happen.”
KCRA 3’s investigative team contacted Bonney Plumbing, hoping to get the company’s response.
A spokesperson would not appear on camera, but in a phone call, Bonney CEO Jimmy Crabbe said he believes the company has been wrongly accused.
He added that it would be “inappropriate to speak about a pending investigation.”
The company did send KCRA 3 a statement saying that in the wake of the Contractors State License Board accusation, it has “dedicated a new department of three additional people to monitor and safeguard the permitting process.”
Yet, the decision is in the hands of a judge to determine if Bonney will keep its license and pay back all the customers in the complaint.
Granger received a letter from Mark Bonney, admitting the company didn’t pull the permits for his job. Bonney gave Granger a $200 check for his “inconvenience.”
Still, Granger is happy the state took his complaint seriously.
“[The state] took my case and took it all the way along with the other people — all the way to the top,” Granger said. “And I really appreciate what they are doing for the little man in this state.”
The Contractors State License Board and the attorney general are still waiting for a hearing date on the accusation.
Mark Bonney has sold the company since the investigation began, but the board is still asking to revoke his license, as well as the licenses of those employees involved in the case.
The board also wants Bonney to pay restitution to the customers listed in the accusation.