Sheriff’s dept. warns citizens of home fraud

Nikki Gardner

Scams, in Lee County, have been on the rise and the Lee County Sheriff’s Department says there’s been an even bigger spike since Covid-19.

One particular scam, which citizens have been reporting, is one involving some sort of home repair or home improvement business, getting money up front and either never starting the project or just doing part of the work.

In one particular incident, which began in June 2020, a lady wanted to remove every thing from her house and then get it remodeled. She contacted Nikki Gardner, with In House Interior & Design LLC, located at 323 West Main Street in Tupelo.

“The suspect sat down with the victim, agreed to do the complete over-haul and remodeling of the home and asked for $43,000 up front,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “That amount was paid in full.”

Gardner, 39, of Amory, has been charged with home repair fraud.

“I talked with her (the victim) for a little bit, found out there was some work that was done (to her house) but it was not satisfactory — she had paid for a certain type of flooring and when the flooring was installed - it was a cheaper product. There was a bathtub and some cabinets in the bathroom that were not what she ordered either,” said Lee County Sheriff’s Department investigator Brian Kilgore. “That in itself is somewhat of a civil issue. But the victim had paid for all of these items which were going into her home.

“Over $15,000 of that had not been received and was not put into the home.”

After these things started happening, the victim said she tried to contact the suspect but with no success. She tried calling, texting and emailing. Eventually she contacted an attorney, who sent a letter to the suspect but there was no response.

“So I told her to just go ahead, file a report on it and that way she’d have the documentation,” Kilgore said.

“We went over to the District Attorney’s Office, and saw John Weddle and an assistant district attorney and they suggested this was a criminal act due to the fact that there was no work being done and this money had been taken,” Johnson said.

Gardner had a bond set of $30,000 and she has bonded out.

“This is not the first complaint on her (Gardner). She was indicted for embezzlement out of Tupelo,” Kilgore said.

When you’re planning a home improvement project, it’s wise to comparison shop for materials and labor. However, the zeal to save money can also lead you to work with unscrupulous contractors eager to take your money and run.

“We just don’t want to have another victim — because a lot of these things are teetering between a civil matter and a criminal matter,” Johnson said. “So if you have an individual you contract to do some work and they actually do the work but it’s not satisfactory, not exactly what you want done, that’s going to end up being a civil matter, not criminal.

“But in this particular case these was no work done during the later part, so we able to arrest and charge the suspect.”

“The biggest thing is don’t pay $40,000 up front. When you’re going into something where you’re going to spend that much money, do some research on the person you’re dealing with,” Kilgore added. “At the first hint something is not right that’s when Brian Kilgore would say, ‘Whoa, we’re going to stop right there and fix this.’”

If you feel you’ve been a victim of a home repair or remodeling scam, call (662) 841-9040.

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