Terminally ill woman says contractor took hundreds without doing work
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - ABC57 investigates a possible deception against a terminally ill woman.
Stacey Kubsch originally believed she paid a local professional to get her heater fixed, but weeks later, she has spent hundreds of dollars, the heater is still broken, and now she doesn’t have much time left to fix it.
It turns out a couple named Charles and Carol Straub own and manage Comfort Zone Heating and Air Conditioning.
Besides Stacey, there are four small claims cases in total over the past 5 years showing Straub received money and never completed the work.
“It was, it was kind of shocking because it didn’t send me an email or a text, ‘hey I’ll be there in two minutes’ it was here,” Stacey Kubsch said.
Kubsch was diagnosed with terminal chronic COPD, a type of lung disease, late last year.
“I have a growth on each lung. I’m a total hospice patient," she said.
So, when her furnace first broke last December, she was scared.
“I was in fear. I was literally in fear of getting sick,” she said. “Because the smallest lung infection could ultimately be deadly.”
She on Craigslist and found the phone number for a business called Comfort Zone Heating and Air Conditioning.
“He was here less than a half-hour,” she said.
Kubsch tells ABC57 there were three times when Charles Straub came to fix her furnace.
Each time she says things didn’t seem right.
Especially one time when she had to, “take and connect the one end of the wire inside the plastic thing,” she said.
And to repair the furnace for good, the Straubs told her they would have to buy a specific part and that it would take a couple of weeks to fix.
The Center for Hospice had agreed to pay half the bill so when Kubsch got her disability check on January 3rd, she called the Straubs.
“They told me if I paid my portion in cash and in advance, they would go ahead and put in out of their own pocket the amount hospice is sending them in a check so that they can get the part quicker,” she said.
At the time, Kubsch said she was grateful.
“I even went out and got a thank you card and put my $187 in a thank you card,” she said. “I still can’t get that out of my mind.”
After a few weeks without hearing anything, she called the Straubs again for an update and Carol finally answered with bad news.
“She finally answered and said that when the part came in it was the wrong part so they had to send it back and it will be another couple weeks,” Kubsch said.
With $375 already spent, the Straubs were paid in full for the part and labor to fix the heater. But weeks went by and Stacey’s calls went unanswered
Until one day she gets the answering machine and it’s in Spanish.
“I felt so gullible, so used and violated,” she said. “I mean they played me like a fiddle.”
Eventually, Kubsch called a different heating and air company and Zach Graham, a technician with Sam’s Heating and Air Conditioning, came.
“Found a bunch of stuff, not how it was supposed to be,” he said.
That’s when Stacey learned she needed a new furnace. Something that costs upwards of $3,000.
When ABC57 looked into Charles and Carol Straub and saw that they have a significant past in small claims court. At least four cases had major similarities. One in 2016, two in 2018 and one in 2019.
And it’s not just in St. Joseph County, 45 minutes away in Marshall County there are two other similar cases.
“He just never finished the job,” Kevin Hudson has been waiting two years for the Straub’s to come back and finish his repairs.
“Even though the furnace worked, the installation wasn’t complete. There were gaps in some of the intake and things like that,” he said.
Hudson tells ABC57 he paid before getting the service done.
“Chuck” Straub was also supposed to install an air conditioner but said he could only install it in the spring.
“When the ground starts to thaw and he can start running conduit in the ground, that was when he was supposed to bring the air conditioning unit over,” Hudson said.
And when April came around and Hudson said, “it was just a constant barrage of excuses.”
Then when Summer came around he said communication ended.
“They stopped taking my calls, when I would text them or call them, they wouldn’t respond,” he said. “At this point, we were in full summer and we had no air.”
With no change, Hudson decided to contact another contractor and took the Straub’s to court.
“They didn’t show up,” he said.
So, the judge ruled in Hudson’s favor.
Over $2,000 to be paid in full.
We asked if Straub had paid this amount back.
“Nothing. He has not paid a single dime,” Hudson said.
Another customer, Sterling Davis had a similar story.
He said the Straub’s still owes him nearly $1,500 after the part they ordered for his broken furnace was never installed.
Since Davis lives in Maryland and the home is in Tyner, Indiana, he sent a check.
ABC57 is told the Straub’s stopped taking his calls and 6 months later he went to court.
Again, the Straub’s failed to show up and the judgment went in Davis’s favor.
Over $1400 was to be paid in full. But Davis said he never got anything.
To get some answers, we went to the Straub’s house. No luck when I knocked the first time.
A woman who identified herself as a babysitter told ABC57 to come back later. So that’s what we did.
Through the door, you could hear Charles say “either leave or I’ll call the police.”
So I tried calling and Charles picked up. He told ABC57 to not bother him again or he will call the authorities and that he's done with it.
Later his wife, Carol called to explain the situation with Stacey. Saying that she had ordered the part when it came in it wasn't even a mobile home park fan so they sent it back.
Then she said they got the part but it just slipped her husband’s mind.
ABC57 spoke to St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter about these types of cases, although he could not comment on this case specifically he did tell me to prosecute, they need to prove that the contractor had the intention to not fulfill the contract, which he says is hard to do.
It’s much better to do your homework on local companies before you hire.
“If it is a company that is reputable there will be a very obvious trail and before you go, see what the reviews are,” Graham said.
According to the South Bend government website, all contractors have to be registered or licensed in the city and county.
Carol and Charles Straub as well as their business, Comfort Zone, were not listed.
I asked Carol about it and she didn’t seem to agree with local government saying “No you don’t have to have a license for furnace work.”
Two months later and Stacey is still without a working furnace.
“I put myself in this situation, falling for this,” she said.
And while her days may be limited, Kubsch tells ABC57 she just doesn’t want this happening to anyone else.
“This guy needs to be stopped, we need to pull together,” she said.
Since filming this story, Kubsch has gotten her money back but tells ABC57 it changes nothing.
As for the others listed in these cases, two of them I spoke to, including Hudson are still waiting for the money owed to them.