WSAZ Investigates | Renovation Rip-off
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Investigators say it is a story of deception that spans multiple counties and crosses state lines over the course of a decade.
Leaving behind dozens of victims and at the center of it all is one man, accused of swindling them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Victims tell WSAZ, they feel “violated.”
According to criminal complaints, Robert Eugene Jones has been telling all families across West Virginia for years that he is a licensed contractor, plumber and electrician.
His website and ads led customers to believe the same.
But according to the West Virginia Division of Labor, Jones has never held a contractor license.
WSAZ started digging and found that from 2010 to 2012, Jones was doing business as H.R. Services.
During that time, he racked up 16 complaints into the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
Those complaints led to charges and eventually convictions in Putnam and Cabell counties for several crimes, including fraudulent schemes, obtaining money by false pretenses and grand larceny.
He spent a few years behind bars.
While out on work release, he picked up new convictions in Jefferson, Ohio and Wood counties in West Virginia for stealing a vehicle and some trailers.
WSAZ has now uncovered prior convictions in Orange County, Florida, for burglary and theft and in Hancock County, West Virginia.
“Some of the stories you hear are unbelievable,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
After being released on parole in 2017, Jones started his business back up -- this time under a different name -- “A Personal Services.”
Since 2018, 10 more complaints have rolled into the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
That prompted the AG’s office to file a lawsuit against Jones in Putnam County. In their complaint, they say Jones provided Choice Home Warranty a fake contractor license. They sent him to five homes to do work before they realized it was forged.
The Hendleman family in Kanawha County is not a part of that lawsuit, but says they fell victim to the same scheme after experiencing serious flooding in their basement.
“So they went in there and checked the moisture reading on the wall and it was like 100 percent. Studs were wet enough that you could move them,” said Mindy Hendleman.
She says her home warranty company recommended they call A Personal Services to do the work. According to the family, Jones came to their home and provided a license saying, “it was required by law.”
But, as it turns out, that license was fake.
She says he was a smooth talker and had an answer for every question.
“It was a very stressful time for us because of residency and kids and his mom was actually flying in the same day everything happened,” said Mindy Hendleman. “So it was so nice to have him come in and be like ‘I will take care of this, don’t worry about it.’ ”
Two months in, he told the family he found black mold, He said it was so bad, it was not safe to live there.
“He showed us pictures we didn’t really know what exactly to look for,” said John Hendleman. “He said there was mold everywhere, it was the worst he’d ever seen.”
So they packed up their three children that night, and moved out to a furnished apartment.
“We didn’t get too worked up about it,” said John Hendleman. “We could see what he was getting at, it looked kind of mold-ish. He said ‘we’ll get it taken care of, we’ll get it fixed.’ But that single problem always quintupled, it got bigger and bigger and bigger. And then again he would get close to finishing up, and he’d always say ’I need payment I need to get my materials, I need to get this and all these things.’ Whenever we would question some of the charges, sometimes he would become quite defensive but again he would have a good explanation.”
Months later and after collecting more than $100,000 from the family, Jones abandoned the job, saying he needed more money.
The family says they returned home to find bare floors, exposed electrical outlets, holes in walls and much of the work unfinished.
“He literally left us with 50 percent of a house,” said Mindy Hendleman.
Investigative reporter Kelsey Souto spoke to several other families who shared similar stories, saying Jones preyed on their fear and lack of experience with home renovation.
“The reality is, who would know if their home has been struck by lightning or not,” said Attorney General Morrisey. “It’s such an implausible thing, but a homeowner may not know that.”
Court documents say Jones went as far as telling some of the victims their home had been struck by lightning and if they didn’t rewire the house immediately, it could catch on fire.
“We’re trusting people” said John Hendleman. “I’m a resident, part of my job is to work with my patients and trust but verify. We did not do the verification part as accurately as we should have. We trust. He did not give us any reason to mistrust him at least initially. We trusted him, the system, what he said, the payment plans. It did not work out like we anticipated.”
In the last two years, we found Jones has been severed several cease and desist orders from the Division of Labor for operating without a license, in at least six counties: Jackson, Mason, Cabell, Putnam, Kanawha and Boone.
“The problem is, this guy has so many cases in so many counties that we can’t keep up with it and that’s why we’re having this hearing,”
WSAZ was there as Jones was brought into a Putnam County Courtroom earlier this month, where he is facing new charges.
He is currently awaiting trial in Jackson County, set for late September.
Plus, he has other active cases in Kanawha County.
Prosecutors say Jones is also under investigation in Mason County.
“I’m glad that this is in front of this court,” Raynes said. “I’m glad that this is a public hearing because everyone needs to know this man’s name and this man’s face.”
The attorney general believes there are more victims and hopes they will step out of the shadows to share their stories.
“It probably isn’t going to happen to the average person,” Morrisey said. “But if you’re the one in one hundred person and it happens to you, you’ll be glad you took the extra time to research someone. Learn about their reputation, know whether they actually have a license or not.”
The Hendlemans were awarded nearly half a million dollars in damages in their case.
Neither they, nor the four victims from nearly a decade ago have yet to see a dime of their money.
“Part of our motivation for the lawsuit was that he would be held accountable,” said John Hendleman. “If we got something to be made somewhat whole after the situation, great, but really we wanted to make sure he was held accountable.”
The civil case in Putnam County lists several more victims who were taken for about $80,000. The suit claims Jones violated the West Virginia Consumer Protection Act. They are seeking a civil penalty up to $5,000 for each violation.
“You actually have to provide standard work,” Morrisey said. “You can’t have substandard sloppy work. You can’t flee the area and not finish your job.”
Victims hoping the hammers of justice swing swiftly and officials say they intend to see these cases all the way through to the end.
If you are planning a home improvement project, officials encourage you to get multiple quotes on the work. Ask for references or photos from previous jobs. Check out Facebook to see what’s being posted about them.
You must possess a West Virginia contractor license to work on any project that is valued above $2,500. Make sure any contract you sign, includes a completion date a three-day right to cancel.
If you believe you are a victim of this scheme or any other, contact the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office. It can be done online at:
Or call 1-800-368-8808.
You can verify an individuals license number through the Division of Labor at at 304-558-7890 or their website.
You can also check reviews of a company through Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau.
The Attorney General’s Office can also tell you how many complaints have been filed against an individual or company.
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