Thousands of dollars, but little work: State warns of contractor scam

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has a message for homeowners: Beware of phony contractors.

Some homeowners told Hawaii News Now they were scammed by a contractor known for taking their money, then leaving construction projects unfinished.

Hawaii Kai homeowner, Colleen O'Handley paid for a new pool deck and archway, but instead, she says she got scammed by the illegal and unlicensed contractor.

"I can't believe I fell for this. I'm just frustrated. Angry," said O'Handley.

O'Handley paid $10,000 dollars after meeting Ilaisa Tuifetoa Kanongataa, also known as Toa of JM Contractor, on the street while she was walking her dog.

"He said, 'I've worked for these people down here' and he showed me on his camera or on his phone all these different pictures of jobs they had done," she said.

The work started but suddenly stopped.

"There was always a story. He's a very agreeable man," she said.

This alleged scam happened with another homeowner, Lance Nishiki, who lives just down the street. Toa and his workers were supposed to pour concrete, build a wall and build a fence, but never finished the job.

Nishiki paid $12,000 in advance.

"He's really a smooth talker and a good salesman. I blame myself too, but I'm kinda mad that it's not done," said Nishiki.

The state has told Kanongataa repeatedly to stop doing business. Orders that go ignored, along with other licensing laws.

In response to the unsatisfied customers, Toa told Hawaii News Now he blames the homeowners for asking for more work without paying extra.

"I don't think it's a scam because our intent is to come there and finish the work," Kanongataa said. "We don't just come to take money to take advantage. We want to finish the work."

The state is aware his tactics, and others like it, are ongoing.

"The door-to-door activity continues to be a problem," said Daria A. Loy-Goto, Complaints and Enforcement Officer with the State's Regulated Industries Complaints Office in the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Records show there are multiple complaints against Toa and more than $30,000 dollars in fines and restitution.

"At this point, we are encouraging consumers to not only file a complaint to us but also to file a police report," said Loy-Goto.

To protect yourself, it's easy to call the state or check online to see complaints against contractors and make sure they are licensed. Just call 587-4272 or click here. 

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