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April 07, 2023

Philly home improvement contractor allegedly scammed consumers by not completing work, AG says

Max Contractors Inc. was cited by OSHA last year for exposing employees to deadly hazards at a Roxborough worksite

Courts Lawsuits
Attorney General Contractor Erik McLean/Unsplash

Attorney General Michelle Henry filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Max Contractors Inc. and its owner, Murillo Sousa, alleging that the company has scammed its customers by taking large monetary deposits and then not completing home improvement projects or doing them improperly.

A Philadelphia-based framing and home improvement contractor allegedly failed to fulfill contracts with customers by not completing work or doing so haphazardly, a lawsuit filed on Thursday by Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry claims. 

Max Contractors Inc. is accused of scamming consumers by contracting with various Pennsylvania residents for general work and home improvements, accepting substantial payments for materials and services and then not starting or finishing the work. In many cases, the lawsuit alleges, work that was completed as part of these contracts were done inadequately or in an "unprofessional manner."

As laid out in Henry's lawsuit, Max Contractors' owner, Murillo Sousa, frequently contacted consumers by phone and personally visited their homes for consultations about various home improvements on behalf of the company, and was the primary contact for consumers, signing estimates and contracts in person. In at least one instance, the lawsuit alleges, Sousa accepted a substantial advanced payment from a customer but never began the agreed-upon work. 

In other instances, Sousa began the projects as planned but failed to complete the work or did so in a "shoddy, unworkmanlike manner," according to the lawsuit. He allegedly promised customers that their complaints about deficient or incomplete work would be remedied, and then failed to make efforts to fix the problems. 

Sousa refused to refund at least one customer for deficient work, and in some cases failed to use legally-compliant contracts with consumers, according to examples included in the state's legal complaint. 

In those cases, Sousa and Max Contractors only supplied a PO box for their address as contractors, despite an address on Castor Avenue being registered with the state. Max Contractor's registration with the Consumer Protection office was deactivated in November 2021 due to repeated omissions and mistakes in the paperwork, the lawsuit said. 

"Sousa strung along customers with empty promises that ultimately led to Pennsylvanians being scammed out of their hard-earned money," Henry said. "He pocketed the money without completing the work — that's a violation of the law, pure and simple." 

Last January, Sousa was charged with receiving advance payment for services and failing to perform in Delaware County. The charges were later changed to theft by deception, and Sousa pleaded guilty to the charges in February. Last March, similar charges of theft by deception and deceptive business practices were filed against Sousa in Philadelphia, though the charges were dismissed in December. 

The lawsuit details four complaints that the state's Bureau of Consumer Protection has received about Sousa and Max Contractors, all of which occurred over the course of two months in 2021. The complaints allege that customers paid Max Contractors thousands of dollars for initial deposits and early payments, only to receive "substandard and defective" work or were abandoned by the contractors after refusing to pay for unnecessary additional work. 

In some cases, Max Contractors did not obtain a permit, performed work that was not up to code, required customers to pay for repairs on work that had been done improperly and did not issue a refund for cancelled work until after a customer filed a police report, according to the lawsuit. 

Sousa may have also used the names LMN General Construction LLC, Skyline Contractor Imperium LLC, Easy Way Construction LLC, Clean Future General Construction LLC and MPS Home Improvement LLC for his contracting business. Sousa himself may have also been known to consumers as Murillo Da Costa Sousa, Murillo Sousa Dacosta, Murillo Da Costa and Murillo Costa, according to the Attorney General's Office. 

The lawsuit requests that the courts order the defendants to be permanently barred from doing business as home improvement contractors in Pennsylvania, pay restitution to all impacted customers, pay civil penalties of $1,000 for each violation of the Consumer Protection Law and $3,000 for each violation involving those 60 years or older. 

In October, OSHA proposed over $269,000 in penalties for Max Contractors after nine inspections in two years resulted in five willful and 21 serious violations for ignoring federal fall protection requirements. The ninth inspection found that the company was exposing employees to deadly fall hazards at a residential worksite on Carson Street in Roxborough last April. 

OSHA also cited the company for three serious and six repeat violations for not providing protective eyewear to workers while using air-powered nail guns, failing to train employees and allowing improper use of ladders. 

Anyone who believes they or someone they know fell victim to these practices is encouraged to contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at (800) 441-2555 or Inspectors, contractors, laborers, suppliers or anyone else who may have information about Sousa or Max Contractors should contact the Bureau as well.