Garrity also argued in the memo that two employees who worked with suspended licenses, including one who the state says racked up 6,000 violations while working without the required license for more than five years, still had the knowledge, skill and experience of a master plumber.

Alan Schleicher, a former All State employee who was found to have worked at least 6,250 times without a license, testified at the hearing that he thought he could continue to work as a plumber because Garrity told him the decisions against him were under appeal.

Garrity also argued in the memo that the state failed to show any evidence of real harm to consumers.

"Not a single witness testified as to any physical injuries or deaths resulting from any of respondent's plumbing services. None," the memo said. "Not a single witness testified as to any damage or destruction of property resulting from any of respondents' plumbing services. Zip. Not a single witness testified as to any explosions or leakages of gas or water of any kind. Nada."

Explosions and fires have occurred where installations by other outfits were not inspected, an official with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission testified at last year's hearing on the case.

Gas water heaters that are not vented properly could pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, said Bob Frances, director of Howard County's Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits. He said inspectors also check to make sure pressure relief valves are installed properly and that connections are done so there's no chance that contaminated water could get into the plumbing supply.

"It's a lot more complicated than it used to be, and we're the last line of defense," Frances said. "What's important is that we get out there and we see it so the homeowner has some protection against malfunctions or improper design or to make sure you don't have a company sending out unlicensed plumbers.

"We do find things that are incorrect that need to be corrected," he added. "We're there as an extra set of eyes."

Nearly 700 of All State's violations involved installing water heaters but failing to obtain required permits or inspections, according to the state. In these cases, All State charged consumers about $150 for permits that typically cost no more than $60, but never obtained them.

All State never refunded Stafford's $175 even though he canceled the work and he said he has little hope of ever seeing the money, despite the order.

Garrity likely owes consumers much more than the initial restitution fund of $250,000 required by the state, said Ziperman, whose consumer protection division will maintain the fund. According to the state's findings, Garrity failed to turn over work invoices and other records and "destroyed invoice records for the purpose of hiding their misconduct."

"The $1 million may just be tip of iceberg," Ziperman said of the penalty and restitution order. "We don't know how many people total."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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