Ex-con contractor wins civil suit, but attorney general still in pursuit
By Matt Hanley email@example.com June 16, 2012 8:10PM
Thomas Ratz is an ex-con working in construction on a job site on the south side of Chicago. He recently won a lawsuit which he feels was because of his criminal past. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:17AM
Tom Ratz understands why people lined up against him. He’s a former gang member, with drug and violence convictions on his record. On the other side was a woman trying to help her handicapped daughter, who was saying Ratz ripped her off.
He understands he is not the sympathetic figure in that story. He’s done a lot of bad things in his life and hurt a lot of people. But, he says, ripping off that woman wasn’t one of them.
Late last month, a federal court agreed with Ratz, saying he did not commit fraud. Ratz, however, is still facing a deceptive-practices lawsuit filed by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which is pending.
Ratz says he feels vindicated after months of exposure as the ex-con who swindled people.
“Who’s the victim? I know people would like to think it’s not me,” Ratz said. “I’m sympathetic to her daughter, but I never committed a fraud.”
The daughter was born with spina bifida, a condition that stunts the growth of the spine. She has been confined to a wheelchair since she was 12. Ratz became involved with the project to build a bathroom for the daughter after reading a Beacon-News column about the situation. Ratz said he put in a low bid on the project so he could generate good will for his company, Ex-Tream Con-Crete, which hired only ex-cons.
“I was doing it for exposure,” Ratz said. “I got the exposure — just not the kind I wanted.”
After signing a contract in 2007 and giving Ratz a $3,000 down payment, the Aurora woman said she needed time to get a grant that would pay for the rest $33,000 project. According to court records, she got the financing in February 2009. Ratz began working on the project in March 2009 and the woman paid an additional $31,000. Ratz and his crew excavated the site and laid the foundation. But he says bad weather and two deaths in his family caused delays on the project. The woman says she was frustrated with the delays and fired Ratz in June 2009.
She filed a police complaint. The case was investigated by Aurora police and the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office, who declined to press charges. Ratz said he tried several times to repay the money or finish the job, but the woman refused to accept either. The woman then sued Ratz and his company for defrauding her. The case wound its way through the court for years until last month, when a judge ruled in favor of Ratz.
“Ratz may have done a poor job on some of these tasks, and may have taken longer than he should have to complete them, but the evidence shows that he always intended to complete the contract,” federal Judge Manuel Barbosa wrote.
“Mr. Ratz’s excuses might not have justified his delay in performance, and (the woman) may have been justified in terminating him under contract law, but the excuses tend to show that Mr. Ratz’s actions were not fraudulent.”
Ratz said he never claimed to be the best contractor in the world and he definitely is not the best businessman in the world. But he was trying to help the woman.
“I have no idea what it would be like for her to go through what she goes through,” Ratz said. “But that is no reason to soil other people’s reputation.”
The woman declined to comment for this story. She is not being named because she is considered a victim in the attorney general’s complaint. A team of neighbors eventually volunteered to build the bathroom, without charging for labor.
Ratz is still facing the pending complaint from the Attorney General’s Office. Some of the charges in that case relate to the Aurora woman. Ratz believes he will be vindicated on most of the charges in that case. Ratz admits he did not distribute a consumer rights pamphlet that he was required to hand out and expects to be fined.
A spokesman from the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on a pending case.
The lawsuit targets Ratz as well as his wife and ex-girlfriend. Ratz believes the attorney general overreached by holding him accountable for actions by companies he does not own: Excellent Concrete and Excellent Concrete Concepts, which are owned by his wife and girlfriend. If he were to lose the case, Ratz could be barred from owning a company and face substantial fines.
The suit alleges that since January 2008, the companies took more than $151,000 in down payments but didn’t finish contracted work. The attorney general’s office received nearly a dozen complaints against these repair companies before filing the action, according to the suit. In one instance, a man complained that he paid Ratz more than $3,800 to lay a driveway. When the driveway was finished, it began cracking.
“Everything here is prejudicial based on the fact that I’m an ex-con,” Ratz said. “You’re not going to get me back down if I know I’m right.”