COMMERCE, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Anyone who's had to deal with a leak in their home knows you've got to get the water out of there fast.
But a customer suspected one water removal company took advantage of their stressful situation and billed for work they never did. So Donnie Wade did what the FOX 5 I-Team often does: got up early, grabbed a camera, and waited to see whether someone is really telling you the truth.
"I thought I could catch them in the act," explained Wade. In fact, as you'll soon see, he caught them in a lie.
During all the rain we had last December, the sump pump went out in the Decatur home of Donnie and Ila Wade. Their basement was a sopping mess.
"We're going fireman's line as fast as we can go while Ila's out there doing the towels and sopping and everything," Wade recounted.
Their plumber recommended a company called Emergency Water Removal located in Commerce. The project manager was there in a few hours.
"We can do the whole project," Wade remembered him saying, including moving his furniture into storage and replacing the soggy carpet and drywall. "It sounded like oh, you're an angel in this moment of need."
That heavenly opinion did not last long. The Wades say Emergency Water Removal billed their insurance company directly. That meant the family did not get a detailed invoice of the work done. All they received was the total: $12,713 to clean up the water. A sister company, Catastrophe Packout, originally billed another $6170 just to move their stuff into storage and back.
It was getting close to maxing out Donnie's insurance coverage for a water leak, and there would be no money left to replace the drywall and carpet.
"We're not going to pay you anything until we sit down and go through how we got to these outrageous numbers," vowed Wade.
You can learn a lot from a detailed invoice.
Cumming homeowners Vince and Jen Ray asked their insurance company to send them a copy of what Emergency Water Removal billed for their flood last summer.
"They won't tell you exactly what they're doing," complained Vince. "Your insurance company will pay them."
The invoice showed EWR billed nearly 500 dollars for 11 hours of setup, monitoring and taking away their fans and other mitigation equipment. Vince says he was home the entire time. He said EWR was there for a total of one hour, not 11.
"All the monitoring that was done was done by me," he remembered. "Unfortunately."
They complained to the Better Business Bureau that the company didn't even pull up the carpet to clean the mold underneath.
"They're taking advantage of the fact that you're going through a very tough time," Jen said.
EWR did not dispute the number of hours they were actually there, but said they billed what was customary for a job like that. And the insurance company paid. They say they didn't know the mold wasn't addressed.
"We continuously strive to leave customers satisfied because we care about our reputation," the company said in a statement.
Donnie Wade is not one of those satisfied customers. He got the detailed invoices from his insurance company while his furniture was still in storage. Then he decided to go into surveillance mode.
He says the company told him they had to keep his furniture in a "climate controlled warehouse" more than an hour away in Commerce. Wade thinks that's why his moving bill was so high.
But Wade noticed a Doraville address on one of the company emails, a place much closer to his home. So on the day his furniture was supposed to be returned, he got up at 5 in the morning and staked out that Doraville location.
Around 8 AM he watched as the movers loaded his basement furniture from that Doraville warehouse into a rental van.
"In our business, we call that the money shot," the FOX 5 I-Team told Wade.
"Yes, I thought I had the money shot. I was pretty pleased with myself when I called my wife after I started recording."
The Wades asked for a meeting with George Caswell, EWR's chief financial officer. Donnie secretly taped that one, too.
Wade: "Can you tell us why you bring our stuff all the way to Commerce?"
Caswell: "Uh, because we have 10,000 square foot of storage space is what we do."
Then Donnie showed him his Doraville pictures.
Donnie: "You charged us 2000 dollars to take our stuff to Commerce to put in climate control but you stuck it in a nasty warehouse in Atlanta. It's itemized on the bill."
Caswell: "I apologize. This is not how our company is."
Tim Beahan is George's brother and fellow owner.
"I don't want to lie to an insurance company or a customer ever," Beahan told the FOX 5 I-Team as we stood outside that Commerce warehouse. "Because that's just not good for business. You can't stay in business if you do that."
Turns out, the Commerce location is only now being fitted for climate controlled storage.
"They didn't have their stuff shipped all the way up here to Commerce," the FOX 5 I-Team told Beahan. "There's evidence your folks lied."
"Well, I'll have to look at it," Beahan said. "But every time we have a customer who complains, we try to make the invoice correct."
FOX 5 I-Team: "How does a customer know that you're really telling their insurance company the truth?"
"Because the adjuster is required to come out and look at the job site," Beahan answered. "And look at the contents. And we give them full access and reasonable right to inspect everything."
Yet when the FOX 5 I-Team reviewed the Wades' moving bill, we noticed the insurance company paid $582.78 for the basement furniture to be moved a second time "for ozone treatment."
Beahan admitted later that never happened, blaming "a cut and paste error" on the invoice they submitted.
They sent the Wades a check, waived the 12,000 dollars in remediation charges and said the employees who lied to the Wades about their furniture will be reprimanded.
Beahan: "We want to do the right thing by all our customers."