RICHMOND, Va. -- An unlicensed contractor was found guilty Tuesday of a felony charge for taking a Richmond mother's money and not finishing the work he promised.
Kelly Johnson was hired under the impression he was a licensed contractor, but that wasn’t the case.
For two local moms and their families, hindsight is 20-20. Felecia Whitaker, a working mom of three never imagined the headaches she would endure when she unknowingly hired an unlicensed contractor.
She said she’s known Johnson and grew up with him in her old neighborhood.
She said in short order, the five thousand dollars she saved for a bath and kitchen project was gone. She said Johnson had nothing but excuse after excuse. “Oh, I’m sick. My van broke down. I’m helping my dad do A/C work. Come to find out his dad is in a wheelchair,” Whitaker said.
After CBS 6 first aired Whitaker’s story, our tip line exploded with emails and social media comments from others claiming they, too had similar issues with Johnson.
One family’s loss was double what Whitaker said Johnson owes her.
Jermall Harris said she has receipts that show she and her husband fronted ten thousand dollars to Johnson for work he never finished. She said they hired him because his business card said he was licensed and insured.
Harris took his word for it. The military mom explained to us and Better Business Bureau rep Tom Gallagher that they were looking to update their Jackson Avenue home with the hard earned money she saved while her husband Michael was serving in Kuwait.
“That’s the money I put aside for the renovations. When the renovations went south I had to hire other people to come in and re-do it. I had to pull it out of my retirement, my 401 k to replace the money I had already set aside for the job,” Harris explained.
She said when the unlicensed contractor dismantled her home, he stopped working. “He tore it all up and at the same time didn't finish anything. My daughter's room still doesn't have electricity,” Harris said.
In a round table discussion with the alleged victims and Gallagher, CBS 6 reporter Shelby Brown asked if any of them had received any money back. Whitaker said since our story aired she hasn’t received any money back from Johnson, but she did have a mysterious delivery of a few materials to her home.
CBS 6 repeatedly attempted to interview Johnson. He declined, but told us that he knows he has several customers to repay. Johnson said he is in the process of paying them back. He said in all of the cases we profiled, those customers ran out of money.
Whitaker, frustrated that her home was left in shambles wouldn’t let it rest. She took her case to the Richmond police department and pressed criminal charges.
“I still have no running water in my kitchen. Cabinets are still not completed. There are holes in kitchen floors and baseboards,” Whitaker said.
The Richmond mom was anxious for her court date, hoping a judge would see her side. At trial, the prosecutor argued that Johnson intended to defraud Whitaker of her money. Sau Chan, the prosecutor even brought in other alleged victims to testify. That was all the judge needed to hear, finding Johnson guilty.
Johnson’s attorney John Sumpter spoke briefly after court while Johnson remained inside. The prosecutor said he would be facing additional charges by other customers who claim they’re owed money by Johnson.
“Misunderstandings. There might have been shoddy work but I don't think there was enough evidence to show there was an attempt to defraud by my client," Sumpter said.
Chan praised Whitaker for how she handled things. “Miss Whitaker had good records and was detailed oriented. With the receipts she had and help from Lowe’s we got the outcome we wanted.”
She also said the testimonies by other customers were very relevant and helped Whitaker’s case.
“I feel good for Miss Whitaker and I hope that on December 18 it goes even more in her favor and anyone else’s favor who intends to pursue criminal matters,” former customer Michael Harris said.
The BBB’s Gallagher said he’s stunned others haven’t followed Whitaker’s lead and pressed criminal charges.
“You know what? You’re not allowed to take money from somebody. The police are interested in that. The courts are interested in that and you’re not allowed to do that” Gallagher explained.
Now Harris and Whitaker want their harrowing experiences to be a sobering reminder to anyone looking to hire a contractor.
“It’s your responsibility to check that person out. No matter how much you trust them or think you know them,” Whitaker warned.
Johnson is due back in court December 18 at 9 a.m. for sentencing. In the meantime, the Attorney General’s office tells CBS 6 they are now handling three pending complaints against Kelly Johnson.
Attorney General Mark Herring said his office is still interested in hearing from any other customers who have unresolved issues with Johnson. Contact the AG’s consumer protection unit at 804-786-2042.