Chapel Hill-based contractor targeted elderly with home improvement schemes, lawsuit says

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)– A lawsuit has been filed against a Chapel Hill-based contractor that targeted elderly North Carolinians in a home improvement contracting scheme, Attorney General Josh Stein said in a news release Friday.

The lawsuit alleges that JH Home Improvements Inc., its owner Jorge Alberto Garcia, and its operator/manager Helen Smith-Flores, carried out a residential contracting scheme that targeted and took money from elderly North Carolinians without completing the contracting work.

The FBI says Garcia and Smith-Flores are husband and wife.

A news release from the FBI’s Charlotte office stated that Garcia and Smith-Flores have defrauded at least 50 elderly victims from 2014 up until April of 2020 in Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.

“When you hire someone to do work, you expect and deserve to have that work done well and at a reasonable cost,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “My office will hold accountable anyone who tries to take advantage of North Carolinians – especially our most vulnerable. That’s why I’m going to court against these defendants.”

Stein’s lawsuit alleges that Garcia, an unlicensed general contractor, presented himself as a family man and licensed contractor to create relationships with the homeowners. Many of the elderly homeowners suffered from age-related health issues, such as dementia, and relied on fixed incomes.

The lawsuit alleges that Garcia would convince the victims to hire him to do complete home repairs and improvements that were often unnecessary and he usually didn’t complete the projects.

Garcia mostly received verbal approval to complete projects and did not always follow up with a written contract, the lawsuit states.

When Garcia did provide a written contract, it was vague and incomplete, the lawsuit alleges.

In one case, between September and December of 2018, Garcia convinced a 76-year-old Chapel Hill woman, who had dementia, to hire him to repair her roof, replace her gutters, install hardwood floors, and refurbish her deck and side porch, Stein said.

The woman paid Garcia more than $250,000 from her retirement accounts for work and materials that were later independently valued to be between $29,000 and $45,000, Stein said.

According to Stein, Garcia is currently behind bars for violating a consent order with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors that barred him from doing general contracting work in North Carolina until he was properly licensed.

While Garcia has been in jail, Smith-Flores has been contracting existing customers and demanding payments, even though the contracting work is not being done, Stein said.

Stein said Garcia and Smith-Flores are also facing charges from the U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of North Carolina for criminal conspiracy to commit wire fraud, while Garcia faces additional misdemeanor and felony charges in North Carolina.

If you believe you have been a victim of a scam by Garcia and Smith-Flores or any others should file a complaint with Attorney General Stein’s office by clicking here.

To read the complaint, click here.

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