NEW ORLEANS -- The Epperly brothers ran EPCO construction, a firm that won high praise for some initial successes in the metro area. The New Orleans City Council even gave the Epperley's a proclamation for "leadership" and "commitment to the recovery."
"I'm Randy Epperley. And I'm David Epperley. We can build your custom home -- or a total renovation,” the brothers said in a YouTube ad.
But by 2009 many knew them more for shoddy work.
“They've screwed up the outside of the house,” said Rhonda Edmundson, a homeowner, in 2009 Eyewitness News investigation.
“The Sheetrock in this room was completely soaked with water, rainwater,” said Ernest Thibodeaux, homeowner, in 2009. He said all of the Sheetrock had to be pulled out because it wasn’t installed properly.
Customers complained the Epperleys took tens of thousands of dollars from them but didn’t do the work.
“I think they should go to jail,” said Thibodeaux. “I think it's stealing. I think it's stealing.”
Some said the EPCO took their money, but then didn’t pay subcontractors who did do work on their homes, so the subs tried to collect from the homeowners again.
“I started receiving liens from subcontractors saying that they the concrete people never got paid, the electricians never got paid for the rough in. The plumbing people never got paid,” Gerardo Pampin, of Metairie, recalled.
Four years after an Eyewitness News investigation, David and Randy Epperley have suspended prison sentences after pleading guilty in Orleans Criminal Court to misapplication of payments in 2011. Instead of sending them to prison for five years, Judge Karen Herman’s sentence ordered them to pay restitution to their victims.
“$253,681, she (Judge Herman) ordered them to repay me,” said Thibodeaux. “So far all I received is $1,584.”
Thibodeaux says he had to dig into savings and retirement for another $150,000 to redo and complete the job EPCO botched and left unfinished.
“I get about $100, $200 each month. And it's not a consistent each month. It's sporadic. One or two months they might miss,” Thibodeaux said.
But in a way Thibodeaux is lucky -- at least he’s getting something.
No Restitution, Nothing at All
Rhonda Edmundson says she paid EPCO $83,000. “And he stole that from us. He stole that. He took that from us.”
As for restitution? “Nothing, nothing at all,” Edmundson said. She said she was never notified they were supposed to pay restitution.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office decided not to include Edmundson’s case in the criminal prosecution because “our office determined that the complaint was civil rather than criminal.”
The statement says Edmundson “fired EPCO and kicked them off the job site. The focus of her complaint was on the quality of the work and not whether or not work was actually performed.”
But she denies firing EPCO. Edmundson says workers stopped coming around when she quit paying, and more than half the work she paid for was left undone.
The top two floors of her home are still a post-Katrina wreck. She believes the stress over the storm and the alleged contractor fraud contributed to her dad’s stroke.
She says what the Eppereleys caused was more than just financial damage. “You stole more than money. You stole our families, you know the hardship, the stroke. My dad doesn’t work anymore. I work three jobs.”
With their finances depleted, the St. Bernard Project and other nonprofits helped Edmundson and her parents complete the first floor of their home.
“Their goal was to get us back living in this home and those people helped us,” Edmundson said.
Still Waiting to Be Made Whole
In Jefferson Parish, Gerardo Pampin says he paid EPCO $155,000, and he is not getting restitution either.
“I'm still waiting today to go to trial,” Pampin said.
Four years after the Epperleys were arrested, the court record shows the case just keeps getting continued.
Why hasn’t Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick been more proactive? A spokesman says he can’t talk about an ongoing case.
“Something should have happened,” Pampin said. “It's been very frustrating.”
Eyewitness News tried to talk to David and Randy Epperley for this story, but attorneys for each declined our requests. Randy Epperley’s attorney did say, "Both defendants have been making monthly restitution payments as per court order."
But Ernest Thibodeaux takes issue with that. And the court record shows they have not made a number of monthly payments.
“They’re ripping off the system,” Thibodeaux said. “Some kind of way they’re manipulating the system.”
Since this case remains open, the Orleans Parish DA’s Office says it cannot comment about it.
But a spokesman says, “It is the policy of the DA's office to pursue full restitution rather than jail sentences, so victims can be made whole and return home.
“If, however, a defendant is not abiding by the terms of his probation, then we will request that the Court revoke his probation and put the defendant in jail.”
At the rate David and Randy Epperley are going, it would take them more than 250 years just to pay back Thibodeaux.