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Possible Ventilation Scam Raises Concerns within ILG Community

By Anna K. Benefiel

Several MIT fraternities and independent living groups may have been victimized by the allegedly questionable business practices of Jeff Hurley of Safety Clean of New England.

According to reports, Hurley has possibly swindled some FSILGs of up to $900.

Hurley has introduced himself to ILGs as having a contract “with the MIT fraternities” to clean ventilation systems.

According to Aimee B. Angel ’00 house manager of the Women’s Independent Living Group, Hurley knocked on WILG’s door last Friday afternoon to do some “cleaning of the exhaust system” which he said “had to be done for fire inspections.”

Hurley was asked to wait for an officer to be located, according to the reports of residents. He entered the kitchen on his own, after which he was asked to leave, Angel said.

“While he was here,” she said, “he put up a sticker saying he had cleaned the same ventilation screen in August.” The sticker included “his name -- Jeff Hurley -- and a phone number to call.” He said that he still had to be paid for those services from last August, for which he charged $450.

He indicated that all residences were obligated to have this cleaning each year per Massachusetts regulations. When WILG refused to pay Hurley, he “threatened to take WILG to small claims court... he said the court summons would be here within one and a half weeks.”

Other living groups including Theta Xi, Chi Phi, and Sigma Nu had similar experiences with Hurley.

Hurley claims no complaints

Hurley said that he has run his business for “over nine years,” and employs from two to three other workers on occasion. He “has never had a complaint, never had a problem in all of my years in the business,” he said.

Hurley, reached via his company’s advertised “1-800” number, went on to express frustration with the MIT-affiliated residences. He said he regularly charges $450 for his exhaust cleaning services, quoting the “going rate for cleaning an exhaust system” as $450-$750.

Hurley said that his “reputation is very important” and would like to “clear the air once and for all” about the work he has done for various FSILGs, including “pika, Epsilon Theta, and 518 Beacon St. (Sigma Phi Epsilon)” Pika and ET refused to comment when reached Monday night. SigEp could not be reached for comment.

Hurley resents the negative claims made against him, saying “when it comes to ventilation duct cleaning, I think I know a little bit more about it than they [FSILGs] do.”

Other ILGs report experiences

William H. Garcia deQuevedo ’01, house manager of Theta Xi, said a man named Jeff Hurley “said he’d done some work for us in September and we still owed him $450. He said he needed to come by and do some more work: clean out our ventilation system again.”

“Jeff then said he would come by later that night to pick up a check.” DeQuevedo suggested that Hurley stop by over the weekend, and explained that he would look into the September expense.

Stopping by Saturday morning, Hurley did obtain a $900 check that Theta Xi Resident Adviser Christopher Drew, unaware of the earlier deQuevedo-Hurley conversation, taped to the door.

After writing the check, Drew investigated Hurley’s relationship with Theta Xi. Drew found no recent history of contact between the contractor and the fraternity, which lead Theta Xi “to question why we were paying him.” Drew said that “he just kind of appeared” to perform the work rather than being contracted by the fraternity.

Michael Mills, Theta Xi’s social chair, said that Theta Xi has contacted the Campus Police regarding the matter.

Sigma Nu’s house manager, Nathanial V. Houle ’02 let Jeff Hurley into the house at some point two weeks ago, but “walked around with him” as he inspected the basement. “He said he’d do this cleaning and then we were insured for a year against fire.”

Houle “didn’t want [Hurley] to come and clean” and indicated that Hurley should call “about when to come back.” Hurley didn’t call, but did come back to the house last Tuesday morning, identifying himself as “the guy who had been contacted to clean” according to Houle. Basically, “he wasn’t telling the truth to the brother that answered the door” said Houle. Hurley proceeded to clean the vents via “spraying them with water in our sink” which “took him about five minutes.” He then billed Sigma Nu $450.

Hurley says the time needed for cleaning “varies greatly” from job to job. “I imagine it can vary anywhere from one hour to three to four hours, and I’ve been at jobs which took even longer.” Pre-inspection typically takes “fifteen minutes,” but is included in the cleaning package which involves the actual exhaust cleaning. The charge for this pre-inspection is “50 to 100 dollars.”

According to Houle, Hurley has also asked for $450 from a previous cleaning that he has not been paid for, thus billing Sigma Nu for a total of $900. “He called tonight and he threatened to take us to small claims court in an attempt to get the money.” Continued Houle, “As far as we know, MIT lawyers are handling the case.”

Edward Essey, Chi Phi house manager, also spoke about an encounter with Hurley. In the transition between house managers, Hurley was given a check to pay for his claims of overdue payments.

He charged the house $450 for exhaust cleaning service and told them that “one of [our] filters was illegal.” Hurley did “perform some service, but we didn’t contract for service.”

Frank Dabek contributed to the reporting of this story.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A followup story was published on April 6, 1999 under the headline "Contractor's Business Practices Scrutinized".