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New complaints roll in against Pasco pest control company

Shannon Behnken The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:17 PM

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LAND O' LAKES -

Joanne Luciani is fed up with her brown grass and with the lawn company that billed her last month for services she says she never received then threatened to put a lien on her home.

"There were bogus invoices," Luciani said. "I had no signs on the lawn. There was no invoice at either door."

The Tampa Tribune first reported in November on complaints about the billing practices of First Class Pest Solutions. In December, state lawmakers said the company may have run afoul of a law prohibiting automatic contract renewal without notification.

Back then, as company president Joe Grabowski dealt with an ongoing investigation by state regulators, he said he would work out problems with customers. Since then, though, scores of new complaints have rolled in, and customers say the company continues to bill for services it doesn't provide.

More than 100 customers have complained over the past two years to the Better Business Bureau, saying their service cancellation letters are ignored, the company charges for services it doesn't complete, or it shows up for treatments even after service was canceled.

In Luciani's case, the company's billing statements indicate something isn't right. Luciani's November bill shows a previous balance of zero. When the January statement arrived, though, two unpaid services from July and September appear. Both are for lawn treatments Luciani says the company didn't provide.

"These two alone tell the story," Luciani said.

Even Grabowski said the invoices look questionable, and he vowed to find out which of his staff was responsible.

After the Tribune asked questions, Grabowski agreed to erase the charges in question, bringing Luciani's bill to $0, down from $170.64.

That's too little, too late, though, for State Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, who said he is still hearing from unhappy First Class Pest Solutions customers. He said he directs them to law enforcement.

Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said deputies have looked into at least one of the complaints and deemed it a civil matter.

"We have to have a crime in order to do much, unfortunately," Doll said. "If a company takes money and doesn't do any work, it's criminal, but if they stop work or do unsatisfactory work, it's civil."

Fasano disagrees, and said more needs to be done.

"It sounds like every time he's short of cash, he goes back and finds a way to pick up that cash — by intimidation, by threatening," Fasano said.

So Fasano is taking a different approach. He is sending out letters, asking county commissioners to revoke the occupational license held by First Class Pest Solutions.

"When you have a company with as many complaints as this pest control company, we don't want them here, serving our residents of Pasco County," he said.

The Pasco County Commission asked the county attorney to look into Fasano's request. But Jeffrey N. Steinsnyder, county attorney, said Friday that it's unlikely the county can do much about the problem.

"This issue is not a simple as suspending their Business Tax Receipt, formerly called and occupational licenses," Steinsnyder said in an email, "these are not intended to be regulatory licenses but a tax as the name was amended to reflect."

Meanwhile, the state Department of Agriculture said it continues to investigate the company.


sbehnken@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7804 Twitter: @shannonbehnken

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