LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Tens of thousands of dollars missing. Court cases in three counties. Angry customers everywhere. How did a contractor who held the Better Business Bureau seal of approval just months ago fall so far so fast? And where were the warning signs for customers trying to avoid a situation just like this?
WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Eric Flack is working for you uncovering how it happened and what you can do, to keep from making the same mistakes.
The customers said they did their homework and checked with the Louisville BBB before hiring this company. But now some say they're out ten thousand dollars or more and are struggling with how it happened.
For years it was ready set go for Ready Set Grow, LLC. A Crestwood landscaping company that operated without problem and with the endorsement of the Louisville Better Business Bureau for more than a decade. But now the owner, Jeffrey Webber, faces felony theft charges. While devastated customers face thousands of dollars in losses.
Jack Ernwine said last April he made a $10,500 down payment to Webber for a covered porch and patio at his Prospect home. He said Webber did approximately $1500 worth of work before he stopped showing up and returning Ernwine's calls.
"It just breaks my heart, all the money I spent," Ernwine said.
Wes Breeding said he didn't even get that. In August he paid Webber $10,000 to buy materials for a new deck. More than three months later there was no wood and no work, so Breeding fired Webber and demanded his money back. He said Webber told him he spent Breeding's money on jobs for other customers.
"He said he used it as company cash flow," Breeding said. "It's just theft because we have nothing to show for it."
Breeding and Ernwine aren't the only ones who feel that way. Records uncovered by the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department reveal 19 Better Business Bureau complaints and 10 negative reviews against Webber and his company in 2011.
Many of Webber's customers told me they never saw the problems coming. He was a regular at Homearama and his contract carried the Better Business Bureau seal of approval.
Louisville BBB President Charlie Mattingly said Webber only had 2 complaints in 12 years until late last summer. In August the BBB got a report about delays and poor workmanship. Then in September a customer said they paid Webber $25,000 for a job they say he wouldn't come back and finish.
Complaints started pouring in after that. In mid-November, four months after the first negative reports, the BBB finally pulled Webber's accreditation.
"Of course that doesn't really help the customers who put up their money unfortunately," Mattingly said. "But we acted when our file indicated we needed to act."
We were unable to track Jeffrey Webber down at his Crestwood home, but we did reach his attorney, Gary Stewart. He told us four customers in three counties have now filed felony theft charges against Webber, all in cases where Webber allegedly took $10,000 or more for jobs he didn't do.
But Stewart said Webber did not intend to steal customers money, and he will ask the judge to dismiss the criminal charges and shift the cases to civil court.
Stewart said Webber's problems "was a combination of the economy, the weather, and different other factors that he had no control over."
The attorney said Webber is a good person who fell on hard times and simply went too far trying to drum up business to keep Ready Set Grow, alive.
Customers like Jack Ernwine are throwing cold water all over that argument.
"This is a dishonest guy without a doubt," Ernwine.
So how do you protect yourself even when you've done your homework?
Stay away from big down payments long before work is supposed to start The BBB says you shouldn't have to make a down payment until day one of the job or right before Down payment's should only be about a third of the total price of the project And be wary on contractors who tell you they need your down payment to buy supplies
Keith Curry of Curry Landscape Design, a landscape business serving the Oldham County and Louisville area for the past 26 years, said there are many reputable contractors in the this area that do not require large down payments.
"Homeowners can avoid these situations," Curry wrote in an email. "Most contractors have credit lines with their suppliers, which allows them 30 days to pay for materials. We do not require any money up front."
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