JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville tree trimmer convicted of fraud in 2011 has a growing list of angry customers as 2019 gets underway. In the past, customers have accused Arthur Ayers of not doing the job at all. This time, two military veterans say he did start the work, but disappeared before it was done -- leaving an expensive mess behind.
"He's a scammer, 100 percent," U.S. Navy veteran Jyn Picard told the I-TEAM. "It took me three weeks to realize that this guy is not coming back."
Picard said Ayers knocked on his door last month soliciting his tree-trimming services for $500. Picard paid him in cash, was given a receipt and then Ayers did chop down the tree. But, he didn't haul away any of the debris as promised. Instead, Ayers left all the cut up pieces scattered in the yard and disappeared.
"How many times did you try and reach him?" we asked Picard.
"Man, I would say about 50 times," he answered. "I've given (Ayers) ample amount of time. I've texted him. I've warned him that, 'I'm going to expose you if you don't come back and finish the job that you started.'"
Just down the street, another neighbor, David Straining, got the same knock on the door.
"He was in a pickup truck. That should've been a signal right there because you need a boom truck," said Straining, who retired from the Air National Guard. "He had all the paperwork. He had a license and he said it was insured and all that. I made photocopies of it."
Straining said he gave Ayers $250, half of the money, up front.
"He said he needed half the money to haul it away. And at first I wasn’t going to give it to him, but he sounded pretty honest about it," Straining explained. "They cut one that fell in the road, one that fell in my driveway, and one fell that way toward the mailbox."
Straining said Ayers then disappeared -- forcing Straining to hire another tree service to haul it all away.
"I'm retired. We are on a fixed income," he said.
Remember that license Straining said Ayers showed him? We took a copy of it to Shannon Nelson with the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida.
"This is what (Ayers) gave the homeowners. Is this his license?" we asked.
"That's definitely not a license, no," Nelson answered.
Nelson says it's just a company name registration. In Florida, tree trimmers don't need a license and they are not regulated. In other words, buyer beware.
"Like hiring any other contractor, get three estimates. Know what the going rate is for the work that you are trying to get done on your home," Nelson suggested.
The I-TEAM did try to contact Ayers regarding the jobs Picard and Straining paid him to do, but the tree trimmer didn't answer our phone calls either.
Ayers has 14 arrests in Duval County and a prison sentence for organized fraud. Our own coverage of customer complaints against Ayers goes back eight years, to 2011, before his fraud conviction.
Picard called police but said he was told it was a civil matter and they couldn't help. That's when he contacted the I-TEAM.
"I contacted you guys because I know you are going to expose the situation and make sure that everybody is aware of it," he said. "He's got a long history of scams so he doesn't belong out here with the decent people."
"Go to Google and Google his name and you will slam the door in his face. That’s what I should’ve done," said Straining.
The BBB says watch out for red flags -- like door-to-door solicitations and a demand for cash up front. You can find more advice on hiring a tree service here.
If you've been affected by a scheme like this, email the I-TEAM at ITEAM@News4JAX.com.