St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 31, 2013
– Noach Palatnik
, the St. Louis area businessman who was sued earlier this year for violating do-not-call laws in Missouri and Indiana, is back in business under a new company name, Better Business Bureau
This time, it appears that Palatnik’s six-month-old Quality Air Duct Cleaning
of University City has partnered with a Chicago-area firm called National Duct Cleaning Services
. National Duct Cleaning Services has ties to Barak Schnitman
, an Illinois man who twice has been sued by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office over allegations he defrauded consumers through his work for other duct-cleaning companies.
The relationship between the St. Louis and Chicago-area companies came to light after a woman in Kirkwood, Mo., complained to BBB about her dealings with the two firms. The woman said she purchased a discounted duct-cleaning coupon for National, but the workers who came to her home represented Quality.
She contends the workers charged her $400 for services she didn’t need and treated her air conditioning and heating system with potentially dangerous chemicals without telling her in advance.
The woman said she previously has been treated for cancer, asthma and emphysema and says the chemicals have caused breathing difficulties and may be affecting her health.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the relationship between the two companies raises serious concerns for residents of the Bi-state region.
“Here are two men whose air duct businesses already have been the targets of law enforcement actions and customer complaints filed with BBB,” Corey said. “By joining together, they are creating the potential of double trouble for consumers.”
BBB has issued two alerts involving air duct companies tied to Palatnik. A November 2011 alert said that customers of US Air Duct
(also known as US Air Ducts) were lured by promises of $49 duct-cleaning specials and then hit with bills of $1,800 and more. At the time, Palatnik was president and owner of that company.
In April 2013, BBB recommended that consumers be cautious when dealing with Air Care
and Show Me Air Duct and Carpet Cleaning
, two duct-cleaning firms tied to Palatnik. That warning also noted that Palatnik was the president of Pure Air, another St. Louis area duct-cleaning business which has received numerous BBB complaints.
Records with the Missouri secretary of state show that Quality, the newest company, is owned by Pure Air and Palatnik.
In June, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller sued Palatnik over multiple violations of those state’s no-call laws, accusing the companies of robo-calling thousands of consumers. Those cases are pending.
Schnitman’s former businesses have run into similar legal problems.
In June 2010, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged American Pure Air, Inc.,
Schnitman and Gal Yarimi
with violations of the state’s consumer fraud act. In a consent agreement six months later, a Cook County judge permanently barred Schnitman from making false offers in connection with duct-cleaning work and barred him from falsifying the effects of mold, fungus or other contaminants in the duct work or furnace of a customer’s home. At that time, Schnitman said he was only an employee of the company and not an owner or supervisor.
In February 2012, Cook County sued Schnitman and his company, Duct Cleaning Central
, for fraud. In that case, the county alleged several violations of state law, including falsely advertising the company’s time in business, misrepresenting the cost of the company’s services or products and failing to inform customers on a timely basis of potential health risks associated with the use of cleaning agents, deodorizers, sanitizers and micro biocides.
Schnitman was an owner and supervisor of that company. In a consent judgment in that case, a Cook County judge barred Schnitman from several illegal activities and ordered him to pay restitution to consumers.
The Illinois secretary of state lists Raam Schnitman of Highland Park, Ill., as the owner of National Duct Cleaning Services. Registration information for the company’s website, www.nationalductcleaningservices.com
, shows Raam Schnitman as the registrant and Barak Schnitman as the website administrator.
A BBB investigator who phoned National Duct Cleaning Services spoke with a supervisor who identified himself as David Smith. Smith said that National had supplied about 100 leads to Palatnik and Quality over a period of several months this year, but stopped working with the company after learning of Palatnik’s troubled past with consumers and law enforcement.
Smith said he did not know the relationship between Raam and Barak Schnitman, but would ask that Raam Schnitman contact the BBB. Raam Schnitman did not respond.
Neither Palatnik nor any official with Quality returned phone calls from BBB.
BBBs across the nation have issued news alerts on duct-cleaning companies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urges consumers to be wary of firms that promise to dramatically improve health. The EPA suggests cleaning in cases where there is visible mold growth, vermin infestation or if the ducts are clogged with excessive dust and debris. It also says that homeowners need to understand the pros and cons of using chemical treatments.
BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to hire a duct-cleaning firm:
- Deal only with reputable companies, preferably businesses in your area with a good track record. Ask for references from homeowners in your neighborhood. Always contact BBB for a Business Review by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
- Beware of advertising offers for air duct cleaning at extremely low prices. Often, businesses use these promotions to get an appointment and then try to sell additional services once they get inside your home.
- If a company discovers a potential problem in your furnace or ducts, do not be pressured into paying for additional services until you have contacted a heating and air conditioning professional for a second opinion. While the second company may charge you for a service call to check out the problem, the call may save you money if no service is needed.
- Try to have a friend or family member with you during a scheduled appointment with a salesman or service technician. If that is not possible and you feel threatened or intimidated during the visit, ask the person or persons to leave your home immediately. If they refuse, call police.
Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, email@example.com, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-584-6727, firstname.lastname@example.org