HomeNewsLocal leader struggling to get help in fighting fraud

Local leader struggling to get help in fighting fraud

Juanita Jones has been working in Jackson for more than a decade, serving as the founder and director of the non-profit Keep My Hood Good.

The organization’s objective is to give children something to do after school and in the summer that would hopefully keep them off the streets and give them a sense of belonging.

She was elected to the Madison County Commission last summer, replacing the seat that had been held for years by Katie Brantley.

She lives in East Jackson, and in the last three years, she’s become the victim of home renovation contractor fraud who require upfront payment for work to be done on her home but didn’t complete the job. And her efforts to get her money back or get justice for the wrongdoings have been fruitless so far.

“It’s frustrating because there are people out here scamming others, and there’s a lot of work that has to be done to bring these people to justice and either get the money back since they did a little work which was less than 10 percent of the renovation or hold them accountable for their actions,” Jones said. “And I’m at a point where I don’t know what else to do.”

Jones’ problems started in the fall of 2020 when she got estimates from three contractors to renovate her home from a one-story, two-bedroom home to three bedrooms on two levels.

According to Jones, she chose a contractor named Jacob Smith with Hub City Renovations to do the work for a total of $40,000 – $15,000 in materials and $25,000 in labor – with a completion date set of March of 2021.

“On Dec. 28 of that year, I’d written checks to Jacob that brought the total I’d paid out to that point to $24,110 in labor and $13,287.79 in materials,” Jones said. “And on that day, Dec. 28, he called and told me that he’d had a friend install a gas line, and I needed to pay $950 to Jason Wilson from BTY Heating and Air.”

Except there were some problems.

“There’s never been a trace of any kind of gas line being put anywhere in my house or on my property,” Jones said. “There was never any dirt turned over and other contractors have been in my house since then and haven’t been able to find a gas line that looks like it was installed that recent.”

When Jones talked to Wilson about that issue, she said he pressed her for the money and went ahead and paid it after he mentioned in a way that made her fearful for her safety that he knew where she lived.

After the conversation with Smith on Dec. 28, Jones never saw him again at her renovated house. When she called him asking what was going on on Jan. 25, 2021, he said he was getting behind on his work because of supply shortages, worker shortages and the workers he did have stealing hours from him.

He said Jones’ house was on his schedule for February and he would be there then to continue the work.

Jones said on Feb. 8, a window she’d bought was stolen as had one of Smith’s saws and she needed to get another one for him. He said he’d be back in two weeks to hang sheet rock and lay tile on her floors after that. But he never showed up as there was a reason the work was being pushed back two to four weeks.

That trend continued with delayed work and more money being paid out by Jones, including purchasing 90 roofing squares.

“I found out later that 90 roofing squares was enough to roof my house three times over,” Jones said.

By July of 2021, she let Smith know she was terminating the contract and wanted her money back. She scheduled a time to meet him at Jackson Police Headquarters for him to repay her the money. When he didn’t show, she filed a civil suit against him in Madison County General Sessions court, wanting $12,200 back.

A month later when the work he had done didn’t pass inspection, she amended her suit, wanting her full payment of $37,000 back.

“I’ve got saved texts and screenshots documenting all of this,” Jones said. “And it’s sad and frustrating because I live in East Jackson, and I was trying to beautify my home and make it nicer.

“A lot of people in East Jackson want to do that, but because scammers and predators feel like they can come to our area of town and get away with actions like this, the people who try to make their homes look nicer wind up losing thousands of dollars and many of us have a hard time making that money back. So when people from other areas of town assume that no one in East Jackson cares about their neighborhood, they need to know that’s not accurate. Some of us have been scammed, and sometimes getting help is difficult.”

Jones and Smith went to court in December, but that was delayed when Judge Don Allen advised Jones to get an attorney, which she did.

When she figured out a civil suit would be fruitless because suing for money would get her nothing, she filed criminal charges.

She filed reports with JPD, and investigators have taken her story.

The District Attorney’s office has taken her statements as well.

But both entities have said the other had a failing in their investigation processes that keep them from taking action.

“The DA’s office told me if I can get a receipt at Lowe’s that has items on it that I never received, that would help them a lot,” Jones said. “But there’s still a lot of finger pointing between them and JPD, my Attorney and even the sheriff’s office when I’ve talked to them.”

She’s recently gone to the Circuit Court Clerk’s office to file documents calling for garnishing Wilson’swages.

“We keep hearing that we need to trust the system and it works for all of us, but getting the system to work shouldn’t be this hard,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of things that can be done to help the situation in East Jackson, and doing more to make sure these predators can’t take advantage of others like what gets done in our area of town so often would be a great first step.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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