The offers played out similarly on driveways throughout South Jersey.

A paving company knocked on the door, offering a low price because it had extra asphalt from a nearby job but needing a quick decision.

“I’m 74 and you’d think I’d know better by now, particularly when I’m a subscriber to Consumer Reports and I’ve read all the horror stories of people knocking on the door,” said Paul Ritter, of Bridgeton, who paid Williams Asphalt Materials $2,600 to pave his driveway on Smith Avenue four years ago. “But they caught me at a weak moment, and they caught me hook, line and sinker.”

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Williams Asphalt Materials LLC, which had business addresses in Cumberland, Burlington and Monmouth counties, was ordered by a Superior Court judge in December to pay $286,000 in restitution and nearly $17 million in fines for consumer fraud and contractor violations. More than 100 people had filed complaints with New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs.

But the company operated in the region for years, leaving behind many other property owners with deteriorating driveways who are not parties to the state settlement. They may never get any refund or repair help.

As with Ritter’s driveway, in many cases asphalt soon crumbled and cracked. Many reported the paving company issued them worthless warranties and failed to return phone calls or letters to address the problems. In some cases, asphalt was less than 1-inch deep, too thin to withstand the weight of motor vehicles, Consumer Affairs reported.

Ritter is uncertain if he will see any money. The paving company is no longer in New Jersey; a Consumer Affairs spokesman said the state will try to go after assets.

Meanwhile, others in the region said the paving company did substandard work on their driveways as well, although they were not part of the initial complaint and would not be eligible for restitution under the recent judgment.

Consumer Affairs spokesman Jeff Lamm said the office is still accepting complaints.

“It’s not certain what will become of any new complaints,” Lamm said. ‘We’ll take the information down and record it, but I can’t tell you today.”

Representatives of the paving company could not be reached at previously listed business and home telephone numbers.

At first, Mike Lenhardt thought he was getting a superb deal to pave his driveway off Leap Street in Egg Harbor Township in April 2008. He paid Williams Asphalt $1,500, he said. Shortly before, he got an estimate from another company to pave it for $3,300.

But the cheaper driveway crumbled and buckled in a matter of months, and he patched holes where weeds poked through, he said.

“I called the company, but they never returned my calls,” he said. “In the back of my mind, I guess I got what I paid for.”

Lenhardt, a recreation maintenance supervisor in Ocean City, said he contacted Consumer Affairs after reading a story in The Press in December.

John Sowa, of Cape May Court House, said Advanced Asphalt Services, another business name used by Williams Asphalt, worked on his driveway about two years ago.

Sowa, a retired elementary school principal in Middle Township, said the company showed him two other driveways in the area.

“I said, ‘Can I let you know in a few days?’ They said, ‘No, we’re in the neighborhood now.’”

Sowa spent $1,600 for the paving, but he noticed large tar chunks rather than a smooth surface, he said. Workers never came back to seal it as promised, he said.

Sowa said he contacted Consumer Affairs in December.

“It’s a good story for consumers to be really caveat emptor — buyer beware,” he said. “The best thing to do is go to someone who’s reputable and go to someone with a good track record.”

Consumer Affairs suggests researching contractors before hiring them. Home improvement contractors and all businesses licensed or registered by Consumer Affairs are online.

Mike Doyle is the owner of Egg Harbor Township-based Trinity Paving LLC, which has been in business for nearly 20 years and is registered with the state.

Doyle said a properly done driveway should last about 20 years, with seal coatings every three to five years.

Doyle offered some advice for consumers.

“First of all, there’s no such thing as extra asphalt,” he said. “We order asphalt mathematically based on square footage. I can within reason get to within a wheelbarrow full of asphalt when I’m in your driveway.”

To come up with the number of tons of asphalt needed for a driveway, there is a simple formula for homeowners.

“It’s not exact, but if you take the square footage of your driveway and divide by nine, then divide that number by nine again, that will give you the number of tons to purchase to put in 2-inches of asphalt,” he said.

Doyle said people should also research companies and not make quick decisions.

“My big thing is word of mouth,” he said. “I really push it. Word of mouth is the key and it’s kept us going.”

In the Seaville section of Upper Township, Mary Forson hired Williams Asphalt to pave her driveway in June 2004.

 The company knocked on her door, offering to pave for $3,600, she said. The price was too high, she said.

“The next day he comes knocking again and says to me, ‘Did you call?’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t call you.’ He says, ‘I’ll tell you what. We’re here, how about $2,650?’“

Within a few months, the driveway cracked, said Forson, who is 74 and retired.

She wrote a certified letter on June 29, 2005, to company-provided address in Browns Mills, writing, “as per your contract, your work is guaranteed for broken areas.” It was returned undeliverable, she said. Her calls were unreturned as well.

Before he retired, Ritter, of Bridgeton, was a construction estimator for a contractor. He last had his driveway paved in the 1960s. 

“All the things I’ve been warned about and read about over the years I basically totally ignored in my haste to make my driveway look a little better,” he said. “It just goes to prove you’ve got to be ever vigilant. You’ve always got to be on your guard.”

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