(KGTV) — Carlos and Amanda Cevallos hoped their grandchildren would be able to play on the new turf in their backyard by Christmas. It didn't happen, even though Cevallos says he paid the contractor in full. Now he says the contractor won't return his calls.
"Everytime I call he tells me that he'll be coming the next day and the following day and it just goes on and on and on," said the retired Marine who lives in Oceanside.
The contractor is Marc Morningstar. His company is called Hybrid Turf, and Cevallos isn't the only customer complaining. There have been enough complaints that Morningstar's contractors license has been suspended since September. Last week the Contractors State License Board took the first steps to revoke his license to work in California.
Morningstar's contractors license was revoked in Arizona in 2015.
Team 10 spoke to 5 San Diego area customers who tell nearly identical stories: They paid Morningstar and he never finished the job.
Cevallos was taking a walk when he noticed a flyer for Hybrid Turf. He picked it up and liked what he saw. After meeting with Morningstar he decided to hire him. "He wanted me to give him a down payment, $700 to begin. I figured you know it's reasonable. We gave him the $700."
Within a couple of days Cevallos said workers began prepping his yard. He made a second payment. Within 2 weeks, Cevallos said his yard was ready for the turf to be installed. That's when he says Morningstar asked him for the rest of the money. "His story was that he needed to pay his worker and to buy more material so he could finish the job," recalled Cevallos. "I felt good about giving it to him because he was promising that he was gonna do it and he was almost complete, so we gave it to him with the promise that he was gonna be back the next day to finish it up."
It still hasn't happened and Cevallos is now out $7,044. His grandchildren spent the holidays playing inside.
Jessica LaRue signed a contract with Morningstar on September 20. She agreed in writing to pay a total of $8,000 in 3 installments of $2,666.66. The work started in mid-October, but it was spotty at best. He yard was cleared, and a layer of decomposed granite was spread. The work stopped.
LaRue said she kept calling and texting Morningstar to finish the work. "He dragged it out saying he was in the hospital... When I asked him, hey, when is the turf coming? He would give me answers of his bank account was put on hold. He banked at Wells Fargo, but that isn't where he cashed my checks. He also asked for more money."
LaRue hired a lawyer to send Morningstar a letter demanding he finish the job or give her money back. She got no response.
Team 10 spoke to an Orange County man who claimed he paid Morningstar $1,200 down to install turf in his backyard. After the payment was made, Rob Castellucci claims Morningstar started making excuses. First, Castellucci said Morningstar told him his truck broke down, then the contractor claimed he was in the hospital with kidney stones. Castellucci got nervous and started searching Hybrid Turf and Marc Morningstar online. He discovered the company has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau and that Morningstar's contractors license was suspended. "So now I sort of freak out and say Marc, just give me my money back. I don't want to do this anymore."
Castellucci filed a complaint with the Contractors State License Board and after several months of waiting was able to recover his losses from Morningstar's bond company.
Tracy and Berine Parmer also recovered some of their losses from Morningstar's bonding, but were never able to recover all the money they say they paid Morningstar to re-do the backyard of their Santee home. Tracy Parmer has a notebook filled with documents relating to her troubles with Hybrid Turf. That documentation helped her win a judgement against Morningstar in small claims court. Collecting it has been another matter.
Parmer said she hired Hybrid Turf after seeing the company had a 5-star rating on HomeAdvisor.com.
Team 10 contacted HomeAdvisor.com to ask about Morningstar's track record and their screening process for contractors. Here's their response:
He was terminated at the end of December and is no longer active in our network.
What kind of background checking did Home Advisor do on him?
We use the best tools available at the state and national levels to screen the owners or principals of a business prior to allowing them to join the HomeAdvisor network. Our comprehensive screening process includes six different areas: state-level licensing, state business filings, criminal records search, sex offender search, identity verification (social security number) and legal search for civil judgments. More information here: www.homeadvisor.com/screening
How often does Home Advisor check back to make sure there are no lawsuits or actions against a contractor's license?
We screen at time of enrollment and every two years after they are enrolled. We also require an active state-level license to be submitted annually. Unfortunately, the states do not proactively share when a license is suspended so we rely on the expiration date. We are currently building a pilot with another tech company to proactively retrieve up-to-date licensing information.
The Other Side of the Story
Marc Morningstar told Team 10 the complainers are few and far between. He claimed he has hundreds of satisfied customers. "I think some people like to embellish a story sometimes and go, well I paid him everything, and its like well no, you haven't."
Morningstar claimed the problems at both the Cevallos and LaRue jobs were caused by the homeowners. He said LaRue had scheduling issues and Cevallos tried to make changes that weren't in the contract. Both deny those claims.
"I just take the high road. I don't get into the petty arguments," Morningstar said.
The contractor disputed every claim made by his former customers and suggested we rely on YELP to get a better grasp of his business practices. "If you look at our YELP reviews we have 27 reviews, I've got 4 and a half stars. That's higher than my favorite restaurant."
One of Morningstar's former workers told Team 10 he pays them bonuses if they get people to write glowing reviews. "I've never gone after fake reviews," said Morningstar. We asked if his employee was lying. "No, I mean I mentioned that hey, if you write a review the guys get a bonus. If you mention their name in it, it helps their business. I don't twist their arms, I don't," explained Morningstar. He admitted he does sometimes give customers a "nudge" to write a positive review.
Morningstar called negative reviews on YELP "contracting blackmail."
"You can't please all the people all the time," said Morningstar. "I think a lot of contractors would agree with me, they will try to take advantage."
Team 10 reached out to two of the people who posted the most recent positive reviews about Hybrid Turf on YELP. Only one responded. She said she was completely satisfied with the work Morningstar's crew did at her home in October. She did not want her name used but said there were no delays, no problems, and no regrets. She said a friend and a business associate also had positive business transactions with Hybrid Turf.
Morningstar said he did not have any crews working while his contractor's license was suspended, but the Cevallos and LaRue contracts indicate otherwise. LaRue's contract was signed 6 days before the suspension began, but the work was done in October. A spokesman for the Contractors State License Board said once a license is suspended no work can be performed, even if a contract is in effect. The Cevallos contract was signed and the partial work was done during the suspension period.
Morningstar asked Team 10 to include in this story that he's a single father with sole custody of his two children and that he's a former pro athlete. "That will speak of my integrity, character and dedication," he wrote in a text message.
We also asked him about a series of logos used in Hybrid Turf's advertising brochures. We checked with the PGA, San Diego Humane Society, Ronald McDonald Home Charities and the Wounded Warrior Project. All said Hybrid Turf was not authorized to use their logos and they do not endorse the business in any way.
Morningstar says the logos were already on the advertising materials when he bought Hybrid Turf in 2015.
A former worker speaks
Andrew Sumner told Team 10 he was proud of the work his team did on several projects while they worked for Hybrid Turf. "The work was great. He was always busy," said Sumner who quit his job because he never knew when he'd get paid.
Morningstar said his company does great work. He pointed to a putting green in a neighbor's yard as proof.
He told Team 10 he hopes to straighten out his contractors license soon and get Hybrid Turf back on track.