BALTIMORE, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire/ — A $200 million class action lawsuit alleging unfair and deceptive trade practices and violation of federal Truth-in-Lending and racketeering statutes was filed today in federal court in Baltimore by eight Maryland homeowners who purchased decks, siding and other home improvements from Sears, Roebuck & Co. (NYSE: S) and a Virginia-based, Sears-authorized home improvement contractor named Congressional Construction Corporation.

Other defendants named in the suit include Kenwood Associates, Inc., of Potomac, Maryland, and its president, Joseph Swartz, who is also an officer of Congressional. Also named as a co-defendant is NVR Savings Bank, F.S.B., based in Virginia, which financed the majority of the homeowners’ purchases. The Associates Financial Services Company, Inc., a Ford Motor Company affiliate based in Texas, is also named because it acquired many of the consumer loans from Kenwood.

The homeowners claim to represent hundreds of other homeowners who relied on the Sears name to purchase home improvements and obtain financing from Sears. The suit asserts that Sears and Congressional took unlawful mortgages against the plaintiffs’ homes without their knowledge or consent, and that Sears, Congressional, Kenwood and Swartz prevented homeowners from exercising their rights as consumers to cancel their home improvement contracts within three days as the law allows. The suit also asserts that Sears and other defendants committed mail and wire fraud in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, more commonly known as “RICO.”

In their seven-count suit, the homeowners ask the court to cancel the mortgages and allow them to rescind their home improvement contracts. The plaintiffs say they never would have purchased Sears home improvements had they been told or had they known that the financing terms included the taking of a mortgage against their homes. A spokesman for the plaintiffs said the suit is a reminder that homeowners need to exercise great caution in signing home improvement contracts and be alert to scams that put their home — for many, their most valuable asset — at risk of foreclosure.

According to the suit, it was not until some homeowners went to refinance their homes that they first learned there were mortgages on record related to their home improvement purchases that would have to be paid off before their homes could be refinanced. Many other homeowners, the suit alleges, still may be unaware that Sears took mortgages against their homes.

The case was filed on behalf of the named plaintiffs and putative class members by Allen L. Schwait, Esq., and Miriam L. Azrael, Esq., of the Baltimore law firm of Azrael, Gann and Franz and Carolyn W. Stamp, Esq., also of Baltimore.


-0- 1/19/94

/CONTACT: Allen L. Schwait or Miriam L. Azrael, attorneys for the plaintiffs, of Azrael, Gann and Franz, 410-821-6800/


CO: Sears, Roebuck & Co.; Congressional Construction


Kenwood Associates, Inc.; NVR Savings Bank, F.S.B.

ST: Illinois Illinois, river, United States

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