Clients of New Rochelle businessman Jerome Yeiser claim that the former church deacon exploited their religious connections to defraud them on home renovation projects.
Mara Schiavocampo and Tommie Porter, and John and Cheryl Graves, filed adversary proceedings this month in federal bankruptcy court, White Plains, to stop Yeiser from using bankruptcy to avoid paying them back.
Their allegations depict affinity fraud, whereby an individual preys on members of a religious organization, ethnic community or professional group by exploiting their friendship and trust.
The Graves complaint centers on Yeiser’s “actions of targeting and convincing unsuspecting parishioners of the Abyssinian Baptist Church to employ him (as) a general home improvement contractor so that he can abscond with their money.”
Yeiser denied similar allegations by Schiavocampo and Porter, in a slander lawsuit he filed against them last year.
“There have been no proven allegations of financial impropriety, financial hardship or emotional distress,” he stated, “caused by Jerome Yeiser to church members.”
The disputes moved to bankruptcy court because Yeiser petitioned for Chapter 7 liquidation last year, automatically stopping other court cases.
He declared $656,014 in assets, consisting mostly of his house in New Rochelle, and $762,950 in liabilities. The assets included $15 in cash, $41 in two bank accounts and $100 in a 401K plan.
He listed Elite Property Management as his business, as well as a 50% interest in Siva Corp., an inactive general contractor.
His accusers claim that the bankruptcy petition misrepresents his income and business connections by omitting interests in House Doctor Construction Corp. and House Doctor Construction Group of Mount Vernon, Yeiser Enterprises Inc., and Siva Real Estate Services, a Bronx company doing business as Lion Heart Construction Corp.
Shiavocampo and Porter hired Siva in 2018 to renovate a Harlem brownstone for $526,880.
The “project quickly went off the rails,” according to the complaint. Subcontractors were not paid, construction deadlines were missed and $192,758 is unaccounted for.
They claim that Yeiser admitted that he had used project money to pay his personal taxes and that he promised to repay them as soon as his bank accounts were unfrozen.
They discovered that Yeiser is not a licensed general contractor, according to their complaint, when the principal of Lion Heart Construction Corp. purportedly said Yeiser had no authorization to claim that Siva was doing business as Lion Heart.
Shiavocampo and Porter then alerted their pastor to the alleged fraud.
“Shockingly,” the complaint states, “we were immediately informed … that we were not the first victims.”
John and Cheryl Graves claim they encountered Yeiser in 2014 at Abyssinian Baptist’s fellowship hall in Harlem. He held himself out as a general contractor with an excellent track record, and they saw him as a “trusted servant of the church.”
The Graves hired The House Doctor to renovate the basement of their Harlem brownstone for $17,692. “Very quickly,” they state in their complaint, they “realized that the project was not going as expected.”
Yeiser allegedly refused to produce a contracting license and proof of insurance. Subcontractors complained that they had not been paid. Work stopped.
Eventually, they allege, Yeiser admitted that he had used project money to pay for a personal trip and for part of his daughter’s education.
They hired another contractor and a carpenter to finish the job, and ended up paying $48,155.
They notified their pastor that Yeiser had acted unprofessionally, according to their complaint, and were told that Yeiser had defrauded other members of the church.
Yeiser states in his slander lawsuit against Schiavocampo and Porter that he never held himself out as a general contractor. Instead, he said, they knew he was doing business as Lion Heart Construction, the general contractor.
He attributed project delays to his clients, the weather, change orders and stop orders from the city. All workers were paid, as documented by financial records, and the project spreadsheet itemizes all money received and spent, including the allegedly “unaccounted for” $192,758. The project stopped, he asserts, because the couple terminated the contract.
Yeiser claims he lost six business deals worth nearly $242,000 because of the couple’s accusations.