ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — Becki Agar didn’t want it to come to this.
“I always gave him the benefit of the doubt,” the Rockford homeowner told Target 8, referring to her interactions with Matthew James Mencarelli of Matthew’s Woodworking. “I just couldn’t wrap my head around (it). I thought, ‘He couldn’t do this, you know? He just wouldn’t. He wouldn’t do this.'”
But after six-plus months of unfulfilled promises and excuses, Agar felt she had to warn other homeowners who may be seeking a contractor.
“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. I really don’t. Especially someone that doesn’t have the means to have someone just walk away with $10,000,” she said.
The Agars gave Mencarelli, whose business is based in Grand Rapids and Belmont, an initial payment of $9,000 to begin renovating their basement.
Becki and her son, Johnny Agar, had ripped out the old basement on their own last winter to turn it into an apartment for Johnny.
“We did everything. We tore the carpet up. Everything you see, we did. We had fun. It got us through the winter of COVID,” said Becki Agar.
But the fun ended when Mencarelli failed to start renovating the basement the Agars had already deconstructed.
The Agars wrote that $9,000 check to Mencarelli in early May.
By mid-July, they had asked the Rockford area contractor for their money back. He agreed.
WEEKLY EXCUSES FOR NOT SHOWING UP
“Every week, I’m not kidding, he would call, and he would have some reason why he couldn’t show up,” recalled Becki Agar. “The first week it was because he was in an accident; he was rear-ended. The second time he couldn’t come, he was broadsided. Then the nanny and his kids were in an accident.”
Agar saved their text exchanges from late April to mid-October, which included more than a dozen excuses to explain, first, why he wasn’t showing up and, later, why he hadn’t sent the Agars their reimbursement check.
At one point early on, Mencarelli said he had failed to meet with Agar because a “well head at the house blew up and we had a basement full of water.”
He was also unavailable on multiple occasions due to medical problems, doctor appointments and hospital stays.
At one point, Mencarelli’s wife texted Agar to tell her the contractor had gone in for an emergency procedure, but she assured Agar drywallers would begin work the next day.
CONTRACTOR REIMBURSES, BUT CHECK BOUNCES
When the $9,000 reimbursement check finally did arrive three months after the Agars requested it, it bounced.
“I got a call from Fifth Third (Bank)… our transfer was held due to no signature,” texted Mencarelli in an effort to explain why the check was rejected. “We went to the bank today. You are absolutely all set to re-deposit Monday. I apologize. They didn’t call me until 2:30 and my phone in (sic) my truck. Please redeposit. You will be all set.”
So the Agars tried again.
It bounced a second time.
“I’m not going to keep your money. It’s your money,” said Mencarelli in a phone call recorded by Agar.
“But you have kept my money. You have kept my money,” replied Agar.
Mencarelli responded, “I understand that. I’ve been dealing with certain circumstances that have completely consumed my time, and I apologize for that. I did not communicate that well.”
LAWSUITS: CONTRACTOR OWES $800,000 TO INVESTORS
Those circumstances likely included six lawsuits filed in the last year against Mencarelli.
Four of the suits were filed by investors and lenders who said they had given the contractor, in total, around $790,000, apparently for development projects that were not clearly identified in the lawsuits.
In one case, Mencarelli promised an 18% return on the lender’s investment.
According to the lawsuits, four separate plaintiffs loaned Mencarelli $40,000, $125,000, $250,000 and $375,000.
In all cases, the investor plaintiffs alleged Mencarelli failed to pay them back.
Two lenders reported Mencarelli gave them reimbursement checks banks would not honor.
Judges have ruled against Mencarelli in three cases at this point, ordering him to pay nearly a million dollars, which includes the principal loans and damages prescribed under the law.
CONTRACTOR: ‘I’LL FIX IT SHORTLY’
Target 8 confronted Mencarelli to give him an opportunity to defend himself.
“I wanted to talk to you about your customers who say you took money from them and didn’t do the work,” said Target 8 investigator Susan Samples.
“I can’t talk to you about that right now,” said Mencarelli.
But after the question was repeated, Mencarelli replied, “I will, I will fix that shortly.”
He repeated that response when we asked about the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to investors.
“I’ll fix it shortly. I’ll fix it shortly. I have a meeting,” said Mencarelli before walking away.
We texted him with follow-up questions and he called us back, explaining that he had built two custom homes “up North” for which he did not get paid.
Mencarelli said that lack of payment is the cause of his current trouble.
He refused to provide any specifics regarding the homes he built, claiming he had signed a “non-disparagement agreement” with those involved.
On this report’s air date, Mencarelli called Target 8 to say he was giving the Agars their $9,000 that very afternoon, after which he expected Target 8 would drop the story.
We explained that’s not how it works.
He texted Becki Agar around noon to say he would give her the money, but he later said it would have to be the next day.
Agar wonders how Mencarelli spent the money, which isn’t immediately clear.
However, two of the six lawsuits were filed by West Michigan businesses that say Mencarelli failed to pay them for work they did on the contractor’s own newly built home.
One of the plaintiffs, Turfs Are Us, told Target 8 they provided $3,500 worth of services spraying hydroseed at Mencarelli’s residence but never got paid.
Co-owner Kris Stotz was eager to talk about Mencarelli’s extensive string of promises and excuses.
“He just knows how to work it. Lies. Lies. Lies. I don’t know how (these) people sleep at night,” said Stotz, explaining that Turfs Are Us still does business the old fashion way, providing services upfront based on a handshake.
She said Mencarelli abused that trust by failing to pay upon the job’s completion.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department told Target 8 it has received two complaints regarding Mencarelli, one from two investors and another from a homeowner — not the Agars — who reported they paid for home renovations services not rendered.
Target 8 heard from another homeowner who didn’t want to be identified but said he was out $32,000 after investing with Mancarelli and giving him money for a home project.
BASEMENT TO ACCOMMODATE WHEELCHAIR, OFFER INDEPENDENCE
The Agars say the goal of renovating their lower level was to allow Johnny Agar to live more independently while his parents are still nearby.
“We thought this was going to be my space that I could live in and learn how to be independent, have my own kitchen, my own space,” said Johnny Agar.
Becki Agar said they had “high hopes” for the renovation.
“I was really excited that (Johnny) could have his own space and get around,” she explained. “We were going to pull the (kitchen) island out a little bit more so it would be more accessible for him. We have wood floors that we’re going to put down, which is more conducive for a wheelchair.”
Their old basement was carpeted.
Born with cerebral palsy, Johnny Agar uses a wheelchair. He’s also known worldwide for competing in endurance races with his dad Jeff Agar. The 27-year-old has crossed finish lines nationwide, defying doctors’ early declarations that he wouldn’t walk.
An ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and Under Armour sports equipment, he recently added “author” to his list of accomplishments, publishing a book with his mom titled “The Impossible Mile.”
DESIGNER GAVE FAMILY MENCARELLI’S NAME
At the same time the book debuted this fall, the Agars were fighting to get their $9,000 back from Mencarelli.
They had hired the Rockford-area contractor, 35, based on the recommendation of their designer.
The woman told Target 8 she met Mencarelli in passing at a builder’s office but did not thoroughly vet him before sharing his name with the Agars.
She said she feels badly for referring them given the outcome.
On the day this report was published, three different contractors reached out to Target 8 offering to help the Agars finish their basement. We’re connecting them with the family.
CHECK FOR LAWSUITS BEFORE YOU HIRE
If you’re looking to hire a contractor, consider checking for lawsuits online before you part with cash.
Availability of online records vary by county, but in Kent County, you can easily check names, both individual and business, through accesskent.com.
If you want to research further, you can pull files in person at court clerk offices.
You can also check businesses through the Better Business Bureau, though in the case of Matt Mencarelli, the BBB shows no record.
The BBB itself urges consumers to google businesses along with the word “complaint” “review” or “scam.”
The BBB also offers the following recommendations:
- Ask businesses for recent, local references
- Obtain multiple quotes
- Get it in writing
- Verify license and insurance
- Confirm building permits
- Inquire about a lien waiver
- Think about future service issues
- Arrange a payment schedule
- Get a receipt
- Keep your contract
You can read more about those recommendations on their website.