JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A St. Johns County fence company owner who has been the subject of an I-TEAM investigation is now facing felony grand theft charges after being accused of taking a customer’s money for a fence and not doing the job.
St. Johns County sheriff’s deputies arrested 33-year-old Charles Henry Hardwick V, who goes by Chad, on April 4. Hardwick posted $5,000 bond and was released the same day.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Hardwick, owner of the company D-Fence, took $3,550 from a homeowner in November as a deposit for a fence and cashed the check the same day. The affidavit states Hardwick never came back to start the job, but contacted the homeowner on Dec. 31, saying he needed an additional $425 to buy hardware. The homeowner paid the additional money, but according to the affidavit, Hardwick still never came back to start the work. The homeowner did get her credit card company to reverse the $425 charge.
On Jan. 22, the I-TEAM reported on a Better Business Bureau warning about D-Fence. The following day, the St. Johns County homeowner contacted the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, saying she had just seen a story on television about Hardwick and his company.
A detective later talked with Hardwick, who said his business was upside down and that all his money was going to employee payroll. According to the affidavit, Hardwick told investigators he was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and did not have the money to refund the customer’s money.
The affidavit states Hardwick had said he wanted to work out a payment plan to refund the homeowner’s money, as he had done with other customers. The homeowner told detectives she didn’t believe Hardwick would make any payments beyond the first one, and wished to press charges instead.
The BBB issued its warning in January following ten complaints about D-Fence that had been filed since July 2017, accusing the fence contractor of a variety of things, including failing to start projects after receiving large deposits, leaving some jobs unfinished and providing poor workmanship.
At the time, the I-TEAM tracked down Hardwick, who blamed the inability to do the jobs he was paid to do on bad employees and underbidding on projects. He told the I-TEAM he had every intention of paying his customers back.
Hardwick is due in court on April 29 for an arraignment on the grand theft charge.
If you have had issues with Hardwick and D-Fence, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
BBB offers the following tips on hiring a reputable fence contractor:
- Research any business and its owners carefully before paying any money. Check the company’s BBB Business Profile at bbb.org or by calling 904-721-2288.
- Check with your HOA first for any restrictions before choosing your fence. The property owner is usually responsible for adhering to deed restrictions and HOA requirements that apply to the subject property.
- Ask friends, family members, and neighbors with fences you admire to recommend a fencing contractor.
- Don’t automatically choose the first fencing contractor you find. Get at least three estimates to compare fencing contractors. The written estimate should include: the cost of the labor and materials, what the contractor is responsible for, and the length of the job. When you are comparing contractors, compare quotes based on the same specification, be sure to consider the work being done, the quality of the fencing materials, and the cost of the job. While on your property, the contractor should check out the sloping of your yard and obstructions, such as trees, that will affect the fencing.
Florida does not require fence contractors to have a license, but if a fence is being installed, the contractor may be required to get a permit from the city or county, depending on the type of fence.