I Was Defrauded By George Binakis
9-01-19 Horrifying Discovery
My general contractor, George Binakis, principal of Bespoke Contracting and Design Inc. committed fraud. Like most fraud victims, I totally trusted the person who has swindled me out of over $60,000. I had believed him to be an honorable person. When I no longer was able to reach George Binakis via email, phone or text, I was more concerned that something terrible had happened to him and became concerned for his well-being. I only realized something was not right after weeks went by with no communication from him. For a while I thought George might be in an intensive care unit somewhere. When I finally reached out to some of the subcontractors who were working with George on my gut renovation of a condo and learned that they too were unable to reach George, I realized there was a problem. My suspicions became for definitive after reaching out to his brother, Patrick Paraskivas Binakis, a lawyer, who hung up on me when I mentioned the money that George had in his possession that was supposedly for the initial work on my renovation project. His reaction was most unexpected. I was stunned.
Warning Signs I Missed
When I look back, there were some other clear warning signs that things were possibly not totally on the level. George asked that all checks be made out to him personally, not to his business. Several of the subcontractors never received the advances that George claimed he needed the money for. Although his firm is NY based, the checks were cashed in Richmond, Virginia.
If you do a search for General Cotractors or Home Improvement contractors FRAUD, you find results ranging from CONTRACTOR FRAUD - Don't Become a Victim to Home Improvement Contractor Fraud Claim Attorney. AARP offers advice: Here's How to Uncover a Home Improvement Scam. There are articles on Home Improvement Fraud and How To Avoid It and Questions to Ask a Contractor | Before You Hire Them. But why would I have done these searches? I knew George and his previous work would not have suggested that I would end up being a victim.
But I'm getting ahead of myself - here's what happened to me from the beginning:
George Binakis' business:
Bespoke Contracting and Design Inc.
26-12 Borough Place Woodside NY, 11377
Office/Fax # 1.347.256.0559
George Binakis had done two gut renovations for me at our residence in Manhattan. When I was looking for recommendations for general contractors to interview for the new gut renovation of a condo that my huband uses as his studio / office, I called George to see if he could suggest anyone. He said that he was planning on quitting his job working for a large east side contracting company and to re enter the general contracting business again. I would be his first client. I interviewed other contractors, but decided to go with George since I liked his work and he knew my aesthetics George prepared a Design-Build contract detailing the construction costs and scope of work. I signed the contract with a $5,000.00 check on 3 July 2019. Another check for $4,500.00 was written as a deposit for the start of the design phase- getting the architectural drawings done as part of the process to submit the renovation plans to the Management Company of the building and ultimately to the building's board for approval.
The Design /Build contract was similar to the previous contracts for the gut renovation at our residence. It was very detailed with pricing for each aspect of the work. Included was a schedule of payments that would be made as the work progressed.
Meanwhile he brought over to my residence several of the subcontractors that were integral to the work. The custom cabinet maker I knew from the previous gut reno at our condo, the onsite contractor was new. George also went several times to the office/studio with these men to show them the scope of work. I was there when the subcontractor who was creating the architectural drawings was taking measurements.
By July I had filled out the Finish Schedule of items I was responsible for such as Appliances, plumbing fixtures, sinks, toilets, etc that George requested. He had contacted the radiator company where we were planning to get special radiators. I had a meeting with the window contractor for replacing the windows. On July 15 we had a meeting at the office/studio to finalize the plans and to make sure we were on schedule. The plan was to submit to the Building management company and board in August, get approval, go to the architect who was handling the expediting to get approval and necessary papers from the DOB and start the actual demolition in September. I wrote out two checks at that time to George Binakis. One for $20,000.00 and the other for $30,000.00. In addition I gave him $5,500.00 cash with the understanding that he would shave off some money from the final cost of the overall renovation. These two larger checks were to cover the construction deposit, I believe.
All the checks have been deposited in a bank account in Richmond Virginia. George kept the cash. It was not deposited in the bank as far as I know. I do not believe the account was an escrow account specifically set up for my renovation.
George and I were in contact every three days or so for almost 6 weeks. At the end of the week of July 26 George called to say his sister had died and he was leaving for her funeral. We would speak the following Monday when he returned. The last time I spoke or heard from George was July 29th. He sounded as if he had a terrible cold. We went over the architectural drawing, making some revisions. He said he would call me in a few days.
Concerns: Where is George?
I have not heard from George since July 29th. I have called numerous times, but his phone mail box is always filled. I have texted numerous times and emailed. No replies.
I finally reached out to one of the subcontractors, Artem Myagkov, who did all the drafting for the job. He said he hadn’t heard from George. He had been given a $500 retainer and was owed $2000.00. He was able to give me the name and number of the architect, Leandro Dickson, whom I spoke to. He had spoken to George once and had never heard from him again. I didn’t know how to contact either the custom cabinet maker or the onsite general manager whom I met only once. It was now well into August. I finally reached out to the subcontractor who had done most of the work for our residence renovation three years ago and who was supposedly a friend of George. John was able to give me the phone number for the cabinet maker, George Vlamakis and for George Binakis’s brother, Patrick Binakis.
Calls to Patrick Binakis, George's Brother
George Vlamakis has worked with George Binakis on many projects. He also had not heard from George in quite a while. He said he would drop over to George’s house and he would call George’s brother Patrick to find out what was going on. George Vlamakis thinks highly of George Binakis and believed something was amiss. There appeared that there was no one was at George’s house. since no one answered the door. George Vlamakis then called George’s brother, Patrick Binakis who was not helpful other than to say George was getting better.
I called Patrick Paraskivas Binakis the following day and left a message explaining who I was. Patrick Binakis is a lawyer concentrating in the resolution of IRS and New York State tax controversies and foreclosure defense. He returned my call. I thanked him for calling back and again explained who I was telling him that I was concerned about George. Patrick said he had NO CONTACT with his brother. When I mentioned the amount of money I had paid George so far, Patrick hung up on me.
My daughter's husband, Ben, is a lawyer and when he heard about the situation he recommended that I find a lawyer whose expertise is in this type of fraud. He also called Patrick on my behalf. The first time Patrick also eventually hung up on him.
The second time Ben called, Patrick admitted he had limited contact with George. Ben has also texted Patrick saying that it would be in George's best interest if he were to contact me to explain what is going on. No one from the Binakis family has reached out.
I initially didn't want to believe that I had been defrauded, swindled, cheated, rob, deceived, duped or any other name you would use to describe what has happened. I still find it hard to believe that when George said he would take on the job of renovating my husband’s studio that he did so with the intention of duping me. But it's very difficult to believe otherwise since neither George Binakis nor anyone else in his family has reached out to offer another explanation of why George has “disappeared”.
I would like to recover my money, but am not sure if this is even feasible.
I have made a complaint to the BBB. I received two referrals from the Legal Referral Service (917-993-5985). I have now spoken with several lawyers thinking that perhaps they could help me recover some of the money. However with $5000 retainers and hourly billing ranging from $380 - $490 per hour once the retainer has been spent without any assurances that any money could be recovered, I have decided that I am not going to pursue that route. I am planning on going to the police to request that a Form 61 be filled out against George Binakis.
9-11-19 Update: Visit to Local Police Precinct
We were told that this was a Civil Court matter. We would have to file in Civil Court and sue for the amount of money that was paid to George.
9-26-19 Update: Information from Emily
I was given Emily's name from the architect that George was going to use for my renovation. Emily is an expeditor. The official name for expeditor is “filing representative,” which means they lead projects through the process of dealing with the Department of Buildings (DOB). She told me that when she spoke to George, she asked him if he were the general contractor for this renovation. He told her: No I am the project manager. That was news to me. She also told me how I could check out the license of a general contrator on the nyc.gov website. I typed in George's last name: Binakis as a General Contractor, but nothing showed up. However when I typed in the name of his company Bespoke Contracting & Design Inc, this is the result:
BESPOKE CONTRACTING & DES | BINAKIS GEORGE | 612646 N | EXPIRED | 05/15/2017
His website says that Bespoke Contracting & Design Inc is one of New York City's paramount contractors, specializing in high-end residential, commercial, and corporate construction. Obviously that is no longer the case. In fact, although he was representing to me that he was acting as the general contracot for this project and was even going to increase his liability insurance to the three million dollars required from the building management company, the man didn't even have a vali general contracting license.
The more information that is revealed about George, the more appalling the whole situation becomes. Talk about being taken for a fool.