18 years later, convicted swindler accused of new scam

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you think Ben Shawa’s name sounds familiar, there’s a reason.

Target 8 investigators have put out warnings about Shawa’s businesses before: in 2002, 2004 and 2011. 

This time, multiple customers are accusing Shawa and his company – Aqua Perfection – of selling “junk” systems and failing to fix them.

“(We) purchased a reverse osmosis system from Aqua Perfection,” wrote one unhappy customer in a complaint filed Dec. 28 with the Michigan Attorney General.

“It broke down soon after. We have contacted the company numerous times, but they haven’t done anything. We have to buy our water from the store. They sold us a defective system, which I think was refurbished. We have a loan (for) over $3,000 for a junk system.” 

Another customer who filed an allegation with the attorney general’s office reported paying $6,195 for a dual water system for their home.

“Within a year, the system began performing poorly and they wouldn’t provide any kind of support. They stopped answering their phones and wouldn’t return messages…. They started out with good intentions, but the owner Ben Shawa has a criminal history and eventually, he got greedy,” wrote the complainant.

Also among those who filed complaints with the attorney general was a customer who said they got a loan for $8,000 to pay for the system Aqua Perfection installed.

“Ben Shawa promised us we would have perfect water in our rental house,” wrote the customer in an emailed complaint.

“The water is black! The bath is black, they have an oily film on them, the house smells, the new stainless steel appliances are being destroyed. (The renters) have to buy drinking water…. I have asked (Aqua Perfection) for a full refund. No response…. I need help in this. We are senior citizens and this is costing us $95 a month.” 

Shawa: “We’re a good company. We follow through”

Target 8 caught up with Shawa as he left a westside Grand Rapids bar on a recent afternoon. 

He largely denied or downplayed any trouble with the company, though he did say business had been slow. 

“We’ve gone through some growing issues and things like that. The reality is we’ve done some restructuring and things like that, as far as growing and things like that, as far as business and things like that.” 

But Shawa insisted Aqua Perfection takes care of its customers and services their systems.

“We deliver. Period. We’re a good company. We follow through. I let people make monthly payments until they pay it in full,” he said. 

When asked why Aqua Perfection has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan, Shawa said, “that’s a great question. I spent a little bit of time away from the company….”

The BBB website shows eight complaints in the last year.

They are similar in nature to the allegations filed with the attorney general’s office.

“Better Business Bureau has noted a pattern of complaints against Aqua Perfection Water Systems,” reads a statement on the BBB site when you search the company’s name.

“Recent complaints from customers who purchased water systems from Aqua Perfection allege the systems do not resolve their water issues as promised. Customer complaints allege the company has not responded to requests to remedy the situation.”

Customer: “They told us our water was bad for our kids”

Target 8 talked to one of the West Michigan homeowners who complained to the BBB. 

“(Aqua Perfection) knocked on our door and said we should get our water tested,” explained Brian Flanery, who lives in Ravenna and has well water.

Flanery took out a loan through Aqua Perfection’s finance company to purchase a $3,349 water softener last July.

The softener was supposed to come with five years of free laundry and dish soap, which made the $50 monthly payment easier to swallow.

But when the Flanery’s hadn’t received any soap after months, Brian became suspicious and researched Shawa’s background online.

The Caledonia businessman, now 47, has a half dozen criminal fraud convictions on his record and did at least two prison stints for them – one in Michigan and one in Florida.

In Michigan in the early 2000s, Shawa was convicted of acting as an unlicensed roofer, taking money from people and failing to complete the jobs.

In Florida, he was convicted in 2006 and 2012 of stiffing concert investors out of at least $100,000.

He also owned a concert promoting business in West Michigan at one time.

“I don’t want other people to waste their money,” said Flanery in an interview with Target 8 at his home. “Save them from the headache I’m going through.”

When Flanery figured he had been conned into buying a water softener he didn’t need, he disconnected it and later had a second company test his water.

“They said our water’s fine. It’s not even hard. That the system was a waste of money and we don’t even need it,” he said.

Target 8 got similar results when it had Prein & Newhof Laboratories in Grand Rapids test the Flanery’s water with no softener or filters.

Everything for which the lab tested came back well within normal ranges, including nitrate (1.32), bitrite (0), fluoride (0), chloride (18.9), sulfate (24), arsenic (0), sodium (15.5, Iron (0) and total dissolved solids (TDS) 224.

The hardness level came back as 133 mg/L, which is considered “satisfactory” according to a standard used as a guideline by Prein & Newhof.

Employees say Aqua Perfection not paying them

Target 8 began investigating Aqua Perfection after receiving tips from employees who said they weren’t getting paid. 

According to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), the state received six claims of non-payment by employees between Sept. 1, 2017 and Nov. 27, 2019.

Of those, two claims were paid by the company and closed, two were withdrawn by the employees and two remain open.

In one of those open cases, the wage and hour division issued a formal determination ordering Aqua Perfection to pay the employee.

That case was recently sent to the Michigan Attorney General for enforcement, according to a spokesperson with LEO.

The other investigation remains open.

“Any employee that believes they are owed unpaid wages or fringe benefits may file a complaint online with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, Wage and Hour Division at michigan.gov/wageclaim or call 855.464.9243,” wrote a state spokesperson in an email to Target 8.

The office of Attorney General Dana Nessel told Target 8 that it’s currently “evaluating the recent complaints” against Shawa’s business.

”However, we cannot comment on what, if any, actions may be forthcoming,” wrote Ryan Jarvi of Nessel’s office in an email to Target 8.

“The Attorney General’s office has a past judgment against Mr. Shawa and has had difficulty collecting on it. Our prior action was a 2002 default judgment for $53,294 naming Benedict Shawa individually and AquaDry (the roofing company Shawa owned in the early 2000s). The judgment was renewed, so his payment obligation under it remains through 10/2022.”

Eviction notice on Aqua Perfection’s office on South Division

Aqua Perfection has vacated the office it once used on Clyde Park Avenue near 76th Street.

But it was recently operating out of a storefront on South Division.

However, when Target 8 visited the storefront, there was an eviction notice taped to the door.

The defendant listed on the notice was Creative Strategic Group, Inc, also known as Aqua Perfection Water Systems.

Target 8 tried to reach Shawa Friday by cell phone and at his home in Caledonia.

He did not respond to requests for comment.

Editor’s Note: A representative from Aqua Perfection appeared on eightWest at one point, a show that airs on WOOD TV8. eightWest is not produced by the news department.

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