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Grief stricken customers complain about high bills for crime scene clean-up

Grief stricken customers complain about high bills for crime scene clean-up

http://www.abc2news.com/news/local-news/investigations/grief-stricken-customers-complain-about-high-bills-for-crime-scene-clean-up

It’s a service you never want to call, but if something tragic happens, you may have no choice.  Crime scene clean-up is an ugly task for those who perform it.  But customers of one company with Maryland ties say they had no idea how ugly it could be until they got hit with surprising bills for large sums of money.

No matter when it happens, you are never prepared to lose someone you love.  But for Baltimore County’s Scott Hofferberth and his family, the sting of losing their mother was amplified by the tragic way she was taken. Hofferberth’s sister, Diana Simmons, says, “I was in shock for hours.  I couldn’t even function.  I was a zombie.”

Simmons and Hofferberth got a call back in November 2011, letting them know their mother, Evelyn, hadn’t been to work in two days.  The pair went to her Parkville home fearing the worst.  They found it.  Simmons explains, “When he turned the corner he started screaming and I turned and saw my mother laying there and I ran up the steps grabbed my cellphone and I could just hear him screaming.”

They were screams of anguish only the family of murder victims could ever understand.   66-year-old Evelyn Hofferberth was killed in a murder-suicide.  Her body was left for her children to find.  The murder scene, a grisly chore Hofferberth’s grieving children knew they couldn’t handle.  Simmons says, “We decided you know we’re going to have to get somebody to clean it up.  We’re not doing it.”

They opted to hire a crime scene clean-up company called Aftermath, Inc.  The Chicago-area company operates locations across the country, including Maryland.  The Hofferberth’s contacted the firm at the suggestion of a friend, who works for a local police department.  Hofferberth says, “We didn’t know at the time how much money it was going to cost until we got the bill.  The bill was astronomical.  It was $12,000.”

The invoice for their $12,000 job shows slightly more than six hours of work done by three Aftermath employees who removed the blood left behind at the scene as well as the tiles underneath the body. The technicians also cleaned and sanitized the area where Evelyn was found, but Hofferberth says he was stunned the work cost so much, “We wouldn’t have even had it done if it was going to be $12,000.”

The family was under no obligation to have the scene cleaned. But they decided to have Aftermath perform the work, signing a contract that spelled out potential charges but contained no estimate. And they’re not the only Aftermath customers who’ve dealt with sticker shock.

ABC2 News investigators obtained at least two dozen complaints against Aftermath in the last three years. Those complaints come from 10 different states and have been filed with various agencies including the Federal Trade Commission, Attorneys General from at least four states and the Better Business Bureau. Steve Bernas, President of the BBB office in Chicago, says, “These are hard to hear cases and they’re hard to read cases as well.”

In Texas, the family of a suicide victim told the Attorney General in that state they were charged $28,000 to clean a house they claim is only worth $45,000. In Massachusetts, an Aftermath customer complained to the state’s Attorney General about paying almost $12,000 to remove a soiled mattress used by a gravely ill family member who later died.

And here in Maryland, the Hofferberth family complained to Attorney General Doug Gansler’s office. In addition, a Maryland physician who used Aftermath after an accident involving her father at his Baltimore home was sued by the company for the $28,000 cost of the clean-up. That case was settled, but just like other cases, insurance would only pay a fraction of the cost based on comparisons.

The customers in those situations had no estimates, although their contracts did contain something else: a mechanic’s lien. Maryland victims’ rights attorney Steve Kelly says it’s legal language that people in grief may overlook, “The victim is personally guaranteeing the amount of money owed.”

For Aftermath customers whose contracts contained the lien language, they were guaranteeing personal responsibility for the entire cost of clean-up, no matter the price and regardless of a contribution by insurance. Kelly, who also serves on the Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, believes grieving families may not understand the legal terminology in the fine print, especially when they’re signing in the height of their grief.

Kelly finds the contract to be contrary to the company’s comforting web message, saying, “The paperwork says we’ve got you, you’re on the hook. We’re going to sue you personally, assert a lien against your property and we’re going to take you to court.”

But Aftermath executives are quick to respond about the contract language about liens. We asked Vice President Tim Reifsteck if technicians at the scene are transparent about what’s in the paperwork when they’re working with families. Reifsteck was clear, saying, “I’ve never taken a family’s home.”

Reifsteck does admit the company has filed dozens of liens against customers in the past. We talked about that during an interview at the company’s headquarters outside Chicago. Reifsteck emphasized those mechanics liens, which are no longer included in their contracts, were a way to protect the company from people who might stiff them.

As for customers who feel they got the raw deal with those unexpected bills, Reifsteck says he has regrets, “Absolutely. Oh god, we hate that as a company. That’s not what we’re about. We’re here to assist them through this event in their life.”

Reifsteck says they’re assisting customers with top notch-service in a tragedy. We saw evidence of their mission as we toured their facility, hearing how they’ve created products, training and protocols Reifsteck says are unmatched by their competitors. It’s his hope their methods will one day be used industry wide. Reifsteck says they don’t cut corners and exceed government standards to protect their workers from bio-hazard.

There’s no federal standard for how clean a crime scene must be left. Aftermath has set their own standard, shooting to achieve hospital-level sterilization, according to Reifsteck, who says, “We’re a company that’s trying to push it, trying to incorporate everything we can to keep our employees safe and our customers.”

But ABRA, the American Bio-Recovery Association, believes Aftermath’s work costs too much money. President Rich Ross says, “They maintain they’re doing everything ethical. We definitely disagree with that.”

Aftermath is not a member of the trade organization. But Ross says members of ABRA have repeatedly audited Aftermath’s invoices and raised big questions about how they do business, saying, “I find that their prices are in line with the normal price range, it’s their procedures.”

But Reifsteck says there’s simply a misunderstanding on how they approach a job. Customers are getting gold standard work, although the complainants say they had no idea that’s what they would end up paying for because they only got pricing breakdowns and not estimates.

The company has changed its ways to make sure customers completely understand what they’re paying for up front. Reifsteck says customers now not only get an estimate, they also get a worst case scenario update if it appears more work and more money will be needed. He says, “We’re trying to empower them to say, ‘Yes. I still want this or no I understand what I am getting involved in’.”

At the time of their mother’s murder, the Hofferberth family says it didn’t understand. In the end, they paid nearly $3,000 out of pocket when insurance would only cover $9,000 of the clean-up cost. It was money to cover a tragedy they never saw coming, according to Scott Hofferberth, “It’s something you don’t expect to ever have to deal with. You can’t plan for it, nobody does.”

The Ohio Attorney General’s office investigated Aftermath in 2010, ordering the company to provide estimates and let customers know when work they were doing would cost more than they originally said. Aftermath execs say the number of complaints we’ve pulled is a tiny fraction of the thousands of jobs they’ve done.

The company also tells ABC2 it does as much as $900,000 in pro bono work each year, although they didn’t respond to repeat attempts to get an answer to how many jobs that figure involves.

Experts, including Bernas with the BBB, say if you ever need a service like this, you should call your insurance company first to find out which companies they work with and how much of the work will be covered by your policy. Bernas says it’s also important to have someone outside your immediately family look at contracts and paperwork because you may be in an emotional state that makes it difficult to comprehend exactly what you’re signing.

 

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Thank you to all!!

When this blog was first created the main objective was to ensure the content on all the consumer sites about Aftermath, Inc. would not be lost. As we discovered most of the horror stories about this company sudenly started disappearing. We took immediate action to save as much of the info on as many sites as we could before Aftermath, Inc. took them down for P.R. purposes.

We wished, but would have never thought this site would have had so much public attention, and that is has given some of the families hope something would be done by this viscous company.

I as many of you wish the worst for the people in this company that are making the irrational decisions to do what they do. I am a firm believer in Karma, and do not wish any ill-will on any of my fellow humans on this earth, but do believe the ones in Aftermath, Inc. who have ruined peoples lives will pay in some way throughout their lives. They know who they are and should be ashamed of themselves.

Happy thoughts…They will pay!!

We wish everyone a Happy Holiday!!

Aftermath inc. is Aftermath Services, llc.

Aftermath Inc. is now using the alias Aftermath Services, llc. please keep your eyes open for they are defiantly trying to cover their tracks. It is a little odd if they are doing nothing wrong, why in the world would you hide your name?

***WARNING***** Aftermath Inc. now using alias Aftermath Services LLC.

BEWARE! Aftermath Inc. has realized that slowly but surely all of our readers are bringing awareness to their fraudulent practices.

They are now advertising as Aftermath Services LLC. but have the same shady business practices. We continue to bring awareness to individuals to stay away from this cleanup company. We are also trying to bring awareness to every local and state police department who continues to refer (you know who you are, and SHAME on you! ) this despicable company. Feel free to share this web site with your local police department!

 

 

WOW..Insider information

This was a comment from one of our readers. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse!

 

I would like to start off by saying aftermath inc is one of if not the most scrupulous, deceitful, unethical companies in the United States. Their practices should be considered illegal and the government should step in to shut them down. Aftermath has ruined the lives of hundreds if not thousands of families left to deal with the death of a loved one. Aftermath has no compassion or sympathy for their customers the grieving family. Aftermath continually takes advantage when people are in their most vulnerable state. If you don’t believe me just look up their customer complaints on the web. There are endless stories of how aftermath over charged, put liens on property, lied to land jobs, committed insurance fraud the list goes on. Charges include supplies that are marked up 300% and a profit charge of 20%. In reality most of aftermaths invoices fall between $45,000-$70,000. I’ve personally seen jobs reach over the $100,000 mark. They continually perform work without the insurance companies approval but lie to the customer by stating the insurance claim has already been set. Aftermath won’t even contact the insurance company until the job is completed. Aftermath will then strong arm the insurance adjuster to pay the outrageous bill. If insurance doesn’t pay the bill then it falls back on the signer of the contract. Let’s get back to how aftermath charges. They show up at a job scene and inspect the situation. They will then ask the customer if he or she has homeowners insurance. If insurance is available then all gloves are off. Aftermath charges for every penny they can get. $285 an hour for one supervisor, $275 an hour for two techs each, $400 for each bio-box, $500 dispatch fee, $400 truck disinfection fee, 20-40% profit and overhead charge and there are more i can’t remember at this moment but there ARE several more. Their supply charges are ridiculous on their own. $12 for a pair of gloves,  $75 for each suit, chemicals ranging from $40-$60 an ounce, a hepa purifier cost $300-400 a day to run. They even have the nerve to charge an hourly vacuum usage charge. They also charge you to clean the tools used. What company does that? If a plumber came to your home to fix a broken toilet and then tried to charge you to clean the tools he used. What would you say. I sure would not  pay for him to clean HIS tools. Shouldn’t that fall under the company’s own overhead? So aftermath charges to clean the tools and truck by the hour even though you’re charged an overhead right off the bat. If that’s not greed. I worked in their office and in the field so I know first hand how business is run at aftermath. I constantly caught grief on jobs that weren’t collected even though the customers had 30 days. We were yelled at by the bosses because we only did $3 million one month and they expected $4 million. THAT’S ONE MONTH PROFIT!  The owners claim they care about the families and follow all osha guidelines. It a bunch of bologna. They are in it for one thing and that’s to get as much money out of people as they can. Aftermath is currently under investigation in Texas, Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts and a few other states for unethical business practice. If you didn’t already know about their little appearance on inside edition. Look here http://m.insideedition.com/?redirurl=/investigative/6376-crime-scene-clean-up-inside-edition-investigates
I am putting this information out as a warning. Aftermath is an evil corporation that needs to be shut down. They should have to pay back the tens of millions of dollars they overcharged and scammed to obtain. Please check with your insurance company before you sign any contracts. I guarantee your agent will tell you a few horror stories about Aftermath’s greedy way.  More to come…

Reader’s Watchdog: Iowa consumer chief says state will examine Aftermath practices

Here is where the original content was acquired from.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130418/NEWS/304180110/Reader-s-Watchdog-Iowa-consumer-chief-says-state-will-examine-Aftermath-practices

 

State officials are warning first-responders not to refer Iowans to specific companies specializing in crime scene and suicide clean-up following a Des Moines Register Reader’s Watchdog report.

The report published Sunday questioned why police, sheriff’s deputies and medical examiners were referring families to Illinois-based Aftermath Inc. — and has prompted an investigation by Iowa’s Attorney General into the company’s contracts with Iowa families.

The company has been the subject of consumer complaints in Iowa and at least 11 other states because of staggering charges and questionable business practices.

Bill Brauch, the head of the Consumer Protection Division within the Attorney General’s office, urged Iowans to contact his office if they or their insurers have disputed past charges from the company.

“We are definitely looking into this,” he said.

Aftermath spokesperson Laura McGowan told the Register the company will work with any attorney general who wants to investigate the company’s business practices.

More representatives from sheriffs groups, county medical examiners and police acknowledged to The Des Moines Register this week they have referred Iowa families to Aftermath Services, largely because of its extensive direct marketing to the agencies and in law-enforcement seminars.

Sunday’s column featured a complaint from Cynthia Holtgrewe of Bellevue, Neb., following her grandson’s suicide in Fort Dodge. She said Aftermath tried to charge $44,000 for a day’s work until family members ejected workers from the home and an insurance agent intervened, she said.

Dr. Dan Cole, an officer of the Iowa Association of County Medical Examiners, said officials with the State Medical Examiner’s Office warned him last week — after a Reader’s Watchdog inquiry — that medical examiners should not refer customers to specific biohazard companies.

Cole said that until he read the column in the Register, he had no idea how much Aftermath Inc. charged the Fort Dodge family after he referred them to the company.

A past president and the current treasurer of the medical examiners’ association, Cole said he plans to take action in May to try to assure Aftermath is no longer a vendor at the state medical examiners’ annual meeting.

“I went to my office over the weekend and destroyed all the promotional materials the company sent,” he said. “From now on in these kinds of cases, I will tell people to call their insurance companies.”

Others in the biohazard business told me this week they have reviewed even higher bills from Aftermath for insurance adjustors — including one for $82,800 last year in Muscatine.

Dale Cillian of BioPro, a Phoenix, Ariz., business owner who was an expert witness in a Texas lawsuit involving Aftermath, said the Muscatine case involving a body left unattended was the highest he’d ever reviewed.

“I told then our charges would have been $15,000 to $20,000, but closer to the lower (estimate),” he said.

Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar, president of the Iowa State Sheriffs & Deputies Association, said he plans to discuss Aftermath next week at that association’s meeting.

Dunbar said that in the past he has told his own deputies to hand out the company’s cards, but he was unaware so many consumer complaints had been made to attorneys general, the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. He said he has since learned his department received a complaint about the company’s pricing.

Brauch also said his staff would explore posting online the names of reputable companies that do suicide and homicide cleanup to provide the resource for first-responders.

“Check around and always compare,” he warned. “If you get only one name, don’t rely on that.”

Greg Heath, a Waterloo landlord, and Amy Leonard, a West Des Moines administrative assistant, said they will be among those filing complaints with Brauch’s division.

In February, Heath said, a Waterloo police officer handed him the company’s card after a man committed suicide in one of his family’s apartments. He said he kicked workers out after an estimate on the biohazard cleanup shot from a low bid of $1,395 to $18,000.

He said Aftermath workers obtained signatures on new contracts from a tenant and occasional handyman in the building who had no authority to sign them, even though the company had his phone numbers.

He said he’s since learned two other families in the area have balked at high charges from the company.

“To me, it’s a legal liability problem for the city,” he said. “Why are police officers referring business to this company? These guys are predators.”

Leonard said she called and complained to Crawford County’s medical examiner after he referred her to Aftermath. The bill she received from the company was more than $80,000.

Leonard said her father passed away on his home in Denison, and Aftermath officials told her there would be extensive biohazard cleanup. The bill worked out to be about $10,000 a day — $17,000 of which she paid out-of-pocket because it was not covered by insurance.

Leonard said workers did do a good job of cleaning up her father’s extremely cluttered home, and they did have to do some structural work, but the costs were excessive, according to other experts.

“If you’ve never been through anything like that, you don’t know you should be calling people and getting different quotes.”

Anne Loomis, a Marion attorney, welcomed the inquiry into the company. She represented the executor of the estate of an elderly woman who died of a heart attack in her rural Marion home in 2009.

The company, Loomis said, tried to charge more than $50,000 for the cleanup and put a mechanic’s lien on the woman’s home. Loomis sued Aftermath attorney Patricia Blachinsky for filing a frivolous pleading and the insurance company eventually reached a settlement for $20,000, Loomis said.

McGowan, the Aftermath spokeswoman, defended the company by saying it would be “thrilled” if it didn’t have to follow OSHA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations that guide how workers perform the difficult work. However, she said, the company follows federal rules because “the safety of employees as well as the customers is always the first thing we care about.”

McGowan said lots of companies “hang up a shingle” and say they specialize in biohazard clean-up.

“If everybody in the industry was held to the same standards we are, we would not be having this conversation,” she said.

She also said the company is not surprised insurance companies would contest covering certain expenses.

However, she said, the vast majority of individuals incur no more than their insurance deductible as costs. “And the vast majority of insurers we work with, we have great relationships with.”

The company’s promotional materials have offered competitors up to $750 for job referrals and other promotions.

But McGowan said last week Aftermath does not pay government workers who send biohazard work their way.

Aftermath Inc. Caught on Camera with staged crime scene..Owner still pleads they are a good company..LIAR!!!

Sorry for some reason the video appears to have been taken down. We have added the content to that was on the page and the link to the site below, as well as kept the original blog post from 6-10-13..

The blood and gore of crime scenes have made hits of TV shows like CSI. But in real life, what happens after crime scene investigators go home?

Suffering families have to figure out how to clean up the bloody mess.

INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero spoke with three grieving Texas families, who all hired a national crime scene cleanup company called Aftermath, Inc. when their children tragically committed suicide.

Watch the entire video here.

Fighting back tears, Cindy Karle told Guerrero, that she was distraught after her only son took his life.

“He died of a gunshot wound to the head,” said Karle.

But Karle, Rick and Brenda Donato and Steve and Shannon Randall all say Aftermath took advantage of their anguish by burying them in bills filled with inflated and unnecessary charges during the darkest chapter of their lives.

“Every time I talk about Aftermath I get physically sick to my stomach because of what they’re doing,” said Karle who was billed just under $17,000 by Aftermath.

The Donato’s bill was approximately $22,000. The Randall’s bill came in just under $44,000.

Lisa Guerrero asked, “Do you feel taken advantage of?”

“It’s just outrageous. They need to be stopped,” said Rick Donato.

To see how Aftermath operates, INSIDE EDITION rented a suburban Phoenix home and spent a day transforming a small bedroom into an elaborately staged crime scene.

In order to give our fake crime scene an authentic look, we enlisted the help of Dale Cillian, the owner of Biopro a Phoenix, AZ based biohazard removal company and Hollywood special effects expert Keith Mosca.  They created a scene that looked just like it was a gun shot wound to the head.

“I’ve been on thousands of [crime scenes] in 28 years and this looks real,” said Cillian.

Then we installed hidden cameras in the house and called Aftermath to report a suicide. The next day, a three man team showed up in a large white van.

Guerrero took a supervisor named Aaron and his assistant up to the bedroom to survey the damage.

After an initial inspection, Aaaron said: “It doesn’t actually look like very much as far as I can tell.”

But what seemed like a quick, easy job would soon get very complicated.

“We should do the whole room because it was a gunshot right. Usually with gun shots there’s always a mist of blood for hours in the room,” an Aftermath assistant explained.

“Really? Wow!” said Guerrero.

Watching on a monitor in another room nearby, Cillian, who’s also an Aftermath competitor, said that’s ridiculous.

Aaron told Guerrero the only way we could be sure the room was safe would be to remove all the furniture, wash all the walls with chemicals and tear up the carpet.

“How much is this going to cost?” asked Guerrero.

“Umm. Let’s see. Total is $19,985,” he answered.

“$20,000!?! That’s really expensive,” exclaimer Guerrero.

“I’m dumbfounded. I’m just stunned,” said Cillian after hearing Aftermath’s estimate of $19,985.

Cillian says it shouldn’t cost more than $3,000 to do all the work and is a two hour job at most.

But that’s not what Aftermath told us.

“How long will it take?” asked Guerrero.

“About 7 and a half hours,” said Aaron.

Aaron then assured Guerrero that homeowners insurance would cover all the charges.

“Everything is getting billed to the insurance,” he said.

“So my insurance is going to pay $20,000?” Guerrero asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

Cindy Karle, the Donatos and the Randalls all say Aftermath made the same promise to them, but after they got the bills they say their insurance paid little if anything.

Aaron and his team then hauled in all sorts of equipment, cordoned off the room with plastic sheet wrapping and biohazard tape, and then suited up in special hazmat suits complete with respirators.

Before they started any serious cleaning, Guerrero went in to ask some questions.

Pushing aside the plastic sheet wrap covering the doorway, Guerrero approached Aaron and his crew.  “Aaron, I’m Lisa Guerrero with INSIDE EDITION. This isn’t a real crime scene. We staged this because were looking into some serious allegations that some grieving families have made against Aftermath.”

“Okay,” said Aaron.

“Sir, you gave me an estimate of $20,000 for a job that according to our expert shouldn’t cost more than a few thousand dollars.”

Aaron said, “I don’t deal with prices and I don’t really feel comfortable about talking about this anymore.”

Afterwards Tim Reifsteck, one of the co-founders of Aftermath, agreed to speak with Guerrero at the company’s headquarters outside Chicago, IL.  Reifsteck took Guerrero on a tour of their training facility after they both suited up in Aftermath’s specially designed hazmat suits.

“We get into some messy situations, some horrible situations,” said Reifsteck.

“Isn’t it true that these suits, all of the supplies, all of these work hours are just an opportunity to jack up the bill?” asked Guerrero.

“Absolutely not,” answered Reifsteck. “We completely disagree with that.”

Reifsteck says Aftermath is a highly technical company and insists their procedures go above and beyond to protect customers and employees from bio-hazards like HIV and hepatitis.

But former Aftermath supervisor Tra Him disagrees.

“They are trying to rip people off,” said Him. “They would tell us to cheat, to lie to the customers. To overcharge for supplies and suits for gloves.”

When Guerrero asked Reifsteck about Him’s allegations, Reifsteck said: “We very much disagree with what he’s saying. We have no idea why he’s making those statements.”

But many customers like Cindy Karle say Aftermath added insult to injury by putting liens on their homes, when they couldn’t afford to pay the sky-high bills.

“It’s not right. They can’t do this to people and keep getting by with it because people are afraid, afraid of losing their homes,” said Karle while fighting back tears.

“I have never foreclosed on a person’s home. Ever!” Reifsteck told Guerrero.

“But you’ve threatened to and that scares people on top of the enormous grief they’re already suffering through,” said Guerrero.

“We hear them. We absolutely do and that’s the reason we no longer perform liens,” replied Reifsteck.

Karle, the Donatos, the Randalls and several other Dallas area families have now hired attorney Ted Lyon and are suing for fraud.

“What their doing here is absolutely morally wrong,” said Lyon.

Aftermath denies all the allegations in the customers’ lawsuit, and says their employees should never promise bills will be fully paid by insurance.

 

{ORIGINAL 6.10.13 BLOG POST BELOW}

I would like to think this blog and all who are taking steps to shut this company down are making a difference. Beware they are changing their name.

PLEASE VIEW THE VIDEO BY INSIDE EDITION>>HIDDEN CAMERA STING>>

http://www.insideedition.com/videos/1493-crime-scene-clean-up-inside-edition-investigates

Reader’s Watchdog: Grieving families shocked by cleanup company’s soaring costs

Here is yet another sad story about Aftermath, Inc

I have copy and pasted all that was on the link below for your convenience.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130414/NEWS03/304140050/Reader-s-Watchdog-Grieving-families-shocked-by-cleanup-company-s-soaring-costs?odyssey=tab&nclick_check=1

 

The past month has been painful enough for Cynthia Holtgrewe’s family. Last month, her teenage grandson took his own life by gunshot in Fort Dodge.

But that deep wound was made worse by an Illinois company that has been the subject of complaints to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general in at least a dozen states over staggeringly high prices and questionable business practices.

The company, Aftermath Inc., charged $44,000 for a day’s work at her daughter and son-in-law’s home.

Holtgrewe was further outraged after she learned Iowa law enforcement, county medical examiners and other first responders were referring families traumatized by suicides and homicides to Aftermath. And so the Bellevue, Neb., woman contacted the Des Moines Register Reader’s Watchdog to try to find out who was responsible.

“Somebody is getting money for referring customers to this company,” she alleged. “There should be some accountability for whoever pushed this company into their lives.”

Aftermath officials have steadfastly defended their pricing, and they did so again this week in the Fort Dodge case.

Company spokeswoman Laura McGowan said the price of biohazard cleanup depends on the size and scope of the work, but she contended the Fort Dodge family was involved at every step of the way.

“However, when you are dealing with something of this nature it is very intensive at a very emotional time,” McGowan said.

But my own search of court records and complaints to Iowa’s attorney general suggest Aftermath has had run-ins with numerous customers. And that was news that piqued the interest of law enforcement and the Iowa attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division.

“This is something we definitely want to look into,” said Bill Brauch, whose division has logged three complaints from Iowa families against Aftermath alleging unfair consumer practices since 2005.

Court records show Aftermath has obtained liens and judgments worth more than a half-million dollars against the homes and estates of Iowans who could not or would not pay for its services.

In Illinois, the attorney general’s office has mediated a dozen disputes over the past decade, most of them over the cost of services, according to spokesman Scott Mulford.

The company has been the subject of more serious lawsuits and investigations in Texas, Ohio and Massachusetts, after customers were stunned by charges of $20,000 to $40,000 to clean up biohazard scenes.

In a special investigation last month, news reporter Joce Sterman at WMAR in Baltimore tallied nearly two dozen complaints in Maryland and 11 other states.

Watch the TV report

Grief-stricken customers complain about high bills for crime scene cleanup

McGowan said people need to keep in mind the work is not simply cleaning.

In some cases, like in Fort Dodge, extensive steps must be taken to remove potentially infectious waste from homes.

In Fort Dodge, she said, workers had to remove pieces of a wall as they tried to clean up after the death.

“The challenge we faced was that the debris was scattered throughout the home because of how they removed the body,” she said.

But Rich Ross, president of the American Bio-Recovery Association, a national industry trade group, said he has been asked to compare Aftermath’s invoices on numerous occasions for insurance companies and has been an expert witness in court cases involving the company.

The company’s hourly rates are comparable to others in the industry, but he said workers inflate the time it takes so that the final bills are extraordinary.

“I wouldn’t hire them for anything,” Ross said. “I don’t know of any insurance company who has a good word to say about them.”

Estimate for work jumps to $44,000

Holtgrewe said her family’s nightmare with the company began shortly after her grandson, a high school student, committed suicide last month at home.

She said she did not want the boy’s name made public because the family is still traumatized from the event. (The Register traditionally doesn’t publish news stories involving suicides unless they occur in public places or the person involved is newsworthy, although in recent years we’ve written more about teen suicides in the state.)

Holtgrewe said she and the boy’s grandfather learned the news around noon on the day of the suicide and they drove to Iowa in one of the winter’s worst snowstorms.

She said the boy’s parents were given information about Aftermath and were told, “This is who you need to call.”

The company’s initial estimate of $17,000 to clean up the mess leaped to $44,000 after the first day, Holtgrewe said.

“We were at the funeral home the next morning when my husband pulled the company up on the Internet,” she said.

After reading of similar controversies around the country, the family and their insurance agent went to the house and kicked the Aftermath crew out.

The family, she said, wound up hiring ServePro of Fort Dodge to finish the job.

Afterward, the family claimed Aftermath workers took an antique Tiffany lamp, a jewelry box and the top off an antique dresser.

“They threw away clothes and things in other rooms, but anything electronic, they took,” she said.

McGowan said the reason for the high cost was that workers discovered biomaterial had permeated the walls.

She said the family authorized employees to complete the job, and they consented to the charges. She said company officials also inventoried items that had to be disposed of, and informed the family.

“At every point in time, we reviewed with the family when there was a change in material (used),” she said. “The family was empowered at every step.”

Marketing targets first responders

So who in Iowa recommended Aftermath Inc. and why?

I talked to Associate State Medical Examiner Michele Catellier, who consulted on the case. Webster County’s medical examiner on the scene was Dr. Dan Cole, she said.

I left messages for Cole four times, and he did not return my phone calls.

Catellier said the state recommends that counties tell families such services are available, but it does not recommend specific companies.

“We don’t even recommend providing a list,” she said.

Fort Dodge Assistant Police Chief Kevin Doty said Aftermath has sent cards to the department, which police use.

“If we have an incident that requires biohazard cleanup, we tell families this is a company that does it. But we don’t recommend any one company.”

Doty said he did not know if officers give out cards from similar companies.

Des Moines police give families a brochure when loved ones die. Aftermath is the first company listed among a half dozen companies that do cleanup work.

“Maybe we will have to reconsider that,” Sgt. Jason Halifax, a department spokesman, told me.

McGowen, Aftermath’s spokeswoman, said the company does market to first responders “like any other company would,” but it does not offer financial incentives for referrals.

Consumer oversight is nonexistent

Workers in the biohazard industry are subject to OSHA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules. But neither the state nor the federal government has established regulations that protect consumers in such situations.

Ross, the industry expert, said the national Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification is establishing industry standards.

Most biohazard companies don’t give estimates upfront because workers don’t know the scope of the job until they get started.

Ross said jobs can range from $3,000 to $15,000 because of their scope, but bills of $30,000 to $40,000 would be highly unusual.

“You could almost rebuild the parts of the house for that much,” he said.

Aftermath workers have claimed they need to be “out of their suits every 15 to 20 minutes and then rest between 20 to 40 minutes because of OSHA standards, and that’s not true,” he said.

Household items should not have disappeared in the Fort Dodge suicide, he said. “Hard stuff can be cleaned to a point where infection is not possible,” he said.

“This industry does have a few bad apples. But this one is the big boy on the block,” he said. “They are really good at marketing. They tell people they are there to care. And I tell you, it’s ridiculous.”

Lee Rood’s Reader’s Watchdog column helps Iowans get answers and accountability from public officials, the justice system, businesses and nonprofits. Contact her at lrood@dmreg.com or by calling 515-284-8549. Read past reports at DesMoinesRegister.com/ReadersWatchdog.

$32,571.75 ?????

The below content was taken from this web site

http://www1.whdh.com/features/articles/specialreport/BO146871/aftermath/

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Special Report: Aftermath

Posted: 11/09/11

111109_aftermath.jpg

A family’s pain is in plain view. Regine Revelus crumbles after learning her 23-year-old son has murdered two of his younger sisters before being killed by police in their Milton home.

“Some days I can barely get out of bed because of my kids. I miss them dearly,” said mother Regina Revelus.

Now, more than two years later, Regine is not only battling her nightmares, she’s had to battle the company her family hired to help them, a crime scene clean-up company called Aftermath, Inc.

“Dealing with my kids and the cleaning company at the same time, that’s too much, that was too much,” said Revelus.

Revelus says the bill was too much.

“$32,571.75,” she said.

How she felt when she saw that number:

“I was shocked.”

Shocked because the contract her daughter signed with the Illinois-based company didn’t provide a total cost estimate, only hourly rates. And Revelus was in such agony she didn’t think to call her insurance company to see what costs they would cover.

But it was too late. Revelus says before her insurance claim was even processed, Aftermath, Inc. had already put a lien on her Milton home.

“If they put a lien on your house, that’s mean,” said Revelus.

She isn’t alone. Aftermath, Inc. has moved to place liens on 41 properties in this state since 2006.

Five lawsuits have been filed against the company in Massachusetts.

One person suing is the brother of William Spada, the Dedham man who shot and killed his wife and injured his daughter before killing himself in their home last winter.

According to the court filing, Aftermath, Inc. billed more than $30,000 for a clean-up job the plaintiff claims is valued at no more than about $16,000 and began the process of placing a lien on the home.

The lawsuit claims Aftermath, Inc. “deceived” the Spada family because the company never provided a total estimate of the “reasonably expected cost.”

“There’s a one-sidedness here, a vulnerable consumer, a company that has a pattern of operating where practices may be unfair,” said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of the Mass. Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

“It was a nightmare, definitely a nightmare, and it lasted over a year,” said daughter Pamela Vallon-Jackson.

Aftermath, Inc. put a lien on Pamela’s mother’s home in Brewster after her mom died.

Pamela says the family hired the company and was stunned to get a bill for a three person crew, bio-hazard containers, and supplies totaling close to $12,000.

“I was in such a state of grief. The gentleman who was here from Aftermath said he’d never seen a case where insurance didn’t cover the cost,” said Vallon-Jackson.

Most homeowner’s insurance will cover some of the crime scene clean-up costs, but insurance industry experts say when they get a bill they won’t just write a check.

“We’ll take a look at what we paid in the past, we’ll take a look at what a market is for that type of service, making sure policy holders aren’t being taken advantage of,” said Frank O’Brien, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

We contacted Aftermath, Inc. about the allegations. They told us in a statement:

“We cannot comment on any specifics of this matter due to pending litigation. However, Aftermath strives to provide the best and most compassionate services to our customers while also protecting the safety of our employees. It is truly unfortunate that the real story of who is victimizing families is being twisted.”

Pamela and Regine worked out settlements with Aftermath, Inc., but say they still paid more than they ever imagined.

“I just couldn’t believe it was happening to us on top of the shock and devastation of my mom’s death. It was just horrible,” said Vallon-Jackson.

“When people are in a bad situation, they take advantage of the situation to make money,” said Revelus.

COMMENTS

Gary Karle

The same scenarios are playing out here in Texas. The Fox affiliate in the Dallas/Fort Worth area did a story on Aftermath, but the video is no longer available due to some sort of legal wrangling that Aftermath did. I suggest anyone who sees this video download and save it if you are filing against Aftermath. The slimeballs will find a way to get this story pulled.

  • Cyndi Wyrick-Glass

    I also worked for this company and I can tell you that they are just as shady as everyone claims.  I left because of inappropriate behavior and comments that were being made to me based on my appearance but I worked in collections.  I KNOW what they are doing.

  • I worked for this company. I can tell you this is very common. They only care about the bottom line, and they will do everything they can to take you for everything they have. As a supervisor I was commonly asked how much money I thought the customer had so they would know how much they thought they could get out of them. They also commit insurance fraud by “taking care of the deductible”. Which means they overcharge the bill. Do yourself a favor and look into any company you do business with. Companies like Aftermath prey on your emotions, and look for any opportunity to take everything you have.

Read more: http://www1.whdh.com/features/articles/specialreport/BO146871/aftermath/#ixzz1vGuWJhwU

Thank you and sorry!

I just want to thank all of you who have made an effort to post your experiences on this site about the business ethics of Aftermath, Inc. And I also wanted to say sorry for what they have done to you and many others. Please feel free to post your experience here with us.

Just like the old saying goes. “You can out run the police cars, but you cannot out run the radios.”  With that said, Aftermath might be able to stay under the radar, but once the internet voice is heard they can be stopped or at least slowed down.