ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A 52-year-old St. Johns County man is accused of defrauding his customers of thousands of dollars.
Richard Hersey Jr. owned Old City Design Center in St. Augustine. Investigators say through that business Hersey ripped off at least 11 customers, who paid him for home renovations that never happened.
The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office began its investigation into the contractor in late 2013 and finally made an arrest Thursday, charging Hersey (pictured below) with an organized scheme to defraud over $50,000. He posted a $20,000 bond and was released a short time after his arrest.
The total loss to the 11 known victims was just under $150,000, according to detectives.
One of Hersey's accusers, Nan Weaver, told News4Jax on Friday that she was relieved to learn Hersey had been charged.
Weaver said she and her late husband, Tyre, moved into their new St. Augustine home in 2013 with plans for major renovations.
"We were going to get granite counter tops, and we were going to bring this (bar top) out so it was actually much wider, so we could use it more as a place for people to sit," Weaver said.
That was just the beginning of the couple's plans.
The Weavers also wanted new cabinets, tile floors, a new sink, and a bathroom remodel.
But Nan Weaver said that after they paid Old City Design Center $20,000 for the materials, Hersey took off with the money and never stepped foot in their home.
"I don't have $20,000 to do it now. It's gone," Weaver said. "But at least I still have a home, and so I'm grateful for that."
Weaver's mother left the couple the money for the renovations when she passed away years ago. Weaver said now, the money is gone for good.
"That's it. He didn't steal it from us. He stole it from (my) mom, and it's just not right," Weaver said.
Tyre Weaver died unexpectedly in April.
According to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, Hersey stole from at least 10 others. The investigators' report found that Old City Design Center signed contracts with at least 11 customers over a five-month period in which Hersey did not pull a permit to do the contracted work, nor did he hold a contractor's license for the type of work he solicited.
Deputies issued an arrest warrant on July 24 and made the arrest Thursday.
"I was all about, I just want to find the guy and tell him, 'You didn't steal it from us. You stole it from (my) mom. And now we don't have that opportunity that she wanted us to have,'" Weaver said.
Weaver now cautions anyone paying for services up front to take a long, hard look at who's behind the business.
"We were just trusting that we were helping a local business," Weaver said. "Little did we know..."
Old City Design Center is now out of business. Hersey filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
Experts have some advice to help homeowners avoid a situation like this:
- Bankrate.com says it's always good to get at least four references before hiring a contractor. That'll give a good idea of the business' reputation.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau. Most contractors will be rated by the BBB with background information and a score.
- Separate legitimate contractors from phonies by checking their licenses. In this case, the Sheriff's Office said Hersey was not even licensed.
- If you're asked to put a large sum of money down up front, that may be a red flag. In this case, the investigators said Hersey took 75 percent before ever doing any work.