NJ has one of the strictest consumer protection laws in the nation known as the Consumer Fraud Act. Under the Act, a contractor must do certain things (eg have a valid written contract with the homeowner) or face stiff penalties (potentially three times the homeowner's damages and attorney fees). Further, it is illegal for a contractor to work without a license. The Act provides that an unlicensed contractor is not entitled to contract with a homeowner to perform work and can be compelled to return monies paid for that work. What you describe sounds as if your contractor violated the Act.
After Sandy our office has handled more and more cases like yours. If you have any questions feel free to contact our office.
Whether you contact our office or not, you should talk to an attorney.
DISCLAIMER: Please be advised that this post is not intended to constitute legal advice and is for informational purposes only. This posting in no way creates an attorney client relationship. You should contact an attorney to protect your interests.
I suggest you contact Mr. Anderson. His firm has experience in this area and he took the time to analyze your question and give a good, detailed answer. It sounds like a substantial amount of money is involved and the level of problems has become serious. This isn't one where you can go it alone without an attorney. Good luck.
The answers previously provided are very helpful. Another two avenues of relief you should look at is contacting the New Jersey Attorney General's Office of Consumer Affairs to file a complaint. Although it might not go anywhere, contact the county prosecutor's office. Lastly, contact the Better Business Bureau.
Of note, even if you file a complaint against the contractor who ran off with your money, find out if he has insurance and/or assets in the event you are successful. You can go through the entire process, spend money on attorney fees, and at the end of the day, you will have a judgment, but no assets to collect upon and will be a waste of time for you.
The information is for general information purposes only. Nothing from this comment should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information does not create and does not constitute an attorney-client relationship or a prospective attorney relationship.