FOX 8 Defenders: Follow-up investigation into appliance repair man

Several consumers have reached to us during the pandemic after an essential part of their household stopped working. Now we're learning there's no record the repair business in question has the required license to do the work.
Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 8:59 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - In a FOX 8 Defenders follow-up investigation, several consumers have reached out during the pandemic after an essential part of their household stopped working. Now we’ve learned there’s no record the repair business in question has the required license to do the work.

“From what I understand, he’s done this to multiple people, and he’s been doing it for years,” Nancy Allen said.

Allen who lives in Old Jefferson, David Jackson in Gentilly, and Algiers homeowner Nicole Langford don’t know each other, but they’ve got something in common.

“His website was the first one to pop-up when I googled.. it was professional looking,” Langford said.

“His website looked really professional, and he was a local guy, and we kind of felt good about supporting a local business,” Jackson explained.

“Because I just looked at his website and nowhere else, I made an assumption that everything was ok,” Allen told us.

Each consumer experienced a home appliance go down, an ice maker, a refrigerator and an oven, and all three found what appeared to be a reliable repair company online The site touted technicians with 30 plus years of experience in New Orleans and all surrounding areas.

All three consumers hired the business to repair an appliance and say Alvin Birotte is who showed up at their home to do the work.

“He came out the same day I called,” Allen said. For her, the ice maker on her Whirlpool refrigerator stopped working.

“He said that it was some sort of an intake valve.. that he didn’t have the part with him, but he could order the part and be back on Friday to fix it,” she said.

He asked for $186 upfront for the cost of the part. “I wrote a check, and he cashed it the same day,” Allen said. She would need to pay the balance of $145 for labor that Friday in early June, but says Birotte never showed up.

“This last time I called from my office phone, and he answered the phone because obviously he didn’t recognize it, and I told him who I was and he said I gotta call you back and I said no, no, no, no, no.. trying to get him to stop ..I said that’s what you keep saying and he hung up on me.”

Nicole Langford knows what that feels like.

"He'll say, 'I'm busy. I'll be there today.' One instance he hung up on me, and I looked at my husband and said that man hung up on me," she said.

When Lanford initially reached out to Birotte, her oven wasn’t working.

“He assessed the appliance.. said it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 or so, and the deposit I paid for, the service call, would be applied to it, said he’d be back the next day,” Langford explained.

She paid him $125 in cash on June 23rd. Her invoice showed she owed a balance of $180 for the part he’d have to get and labor, but she’s not seen him since.

“He’s done the same thing to so many people. It was one of those things where somebody needs to say something,” Jackson said.

He also confirmed Birotte was the same man who showed up at his home to repair his fridge during the Covid-19 peak, back in April.

“The next step was ordering the gasket,” Jackson said. “He said it would take three to five days to show up that was when we wrote him two separate checks,” he explained. One check was for the part. The second check was for labor. Both checks totaled $284, and Jackson says both were cashed immediately.

While he says Birotte eventually returned to make the repair, the appliance still didn't work so Birotte was going to try a different part.

“After that, it was either a no answer or when he answered from another phone number, he said the part was back-ordered so at that point we’re talking three weeks into the whole ordeal the part was back-ordered, but was on its way, and then you know we just completely lost contact with him after that.. he quit answering all phone calls,” Jackson said.

Three local consumers were out hundreds of dollars and left with broken appliances after the repairman never finished the job.

He’s the same man the FOX 8 Defenders investigated four years ago when an Algiers consumer paid him $250 to repair her washer.

In 2016, Wendy Hawkins told us, “the next day he didn’t come. I took off of work. I was home, and he didn’t come, he didn’t call.. he said oh the part’s not in. I’m a come tomorrow.. took off again on Wednesday... once again he didn’t come or call.”

Three days after I reached out to Mr. Birotte on that 2016 complaint, he refunded the consumer.

At the time he operated under a different business name of Ace Appliances Repairs and Parts, a company the Better Business Bureau gives an F-rating after at least 10 similar complaints.

The BBB’s Cynthia Albert explained it’s a pattern of behavior. “It’s over a number of years where we’ve had complaints and it looks like that’s just his M.O. He’s gonna come in, take a look.. tell you a little bit something that you might wanna hear you know or it sounds like he knows what he’s talking about and he might, but he never comes back and repairs, generally speaking, he doesn’t,” she said.

We reached Birotte by phone. He explained the pandemic has contributed to delayed or back-ordered parts, and in some cases, he says he’s still waiting on parts. Some appliance manufacturers shut down production plants temporarily to get a handle on COVID outbreaks among workers.

But that doesn't explain why consumers say he promised he'd be back on a certain day if he didn't have a part or why he didn't follow up with them.

However, he told us he wanted to resolve the complaints, and within two days, two of the consumers we interviewed had a refund in hand, along with another consumer we talked to off-camera. The refund money orders totaled nearly $800.

The Louisiana Attorney General's Public Protection Division can sometimes help too, offering a voluntary mediation process to consumers and businesses to assist in resolving disputes.

The BBB urges consumers to research a business before you hire one.

“After the fact (I) began researching more and found Yelp reviews that stated that he did pretty much the same thing to a lot of other people,” Langford said.

Birotte told us he would refund the four consumers, but Langford says she’s still waiting for hers.

Meantime, the Mayor’s Communications staff confirmed that all businesses operating in the City of New Orleans require an occupational license. We filed a records request for that document, but the City says the Bureau of Revenue and Department of Safety and Permits have no record for Birotte or the business names he’s operated.

If you’ve got a consumer issue, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women or, fill out our online complaint form here.

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