Woman arrested in fence company scam

Arrest comes after Channel 4 investigation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The state attorney's office has arrested a 47-year-old woman in connection with a consumer fence scam brought to light by a Channel 4 investigation last month.

Karen West, owner of American Fence Company of Jacksonville, located on Edgewood Avenue, is charged with organized fraud and grand theft. She was released from jail late Tuesday.

According to a Channel 4 report, customers were paying for work and never getting it done.

The amounts totaled nearly $14,000.

Customer Lisa Sanford showed Channel 4 a contract she signed with the company for a new fence around her pool. She also had a copy of the checks she wrote as a deposit for the $5,500 it would cost.

Sanford said she wasn't surprised she was asked for a down payment of $2,795, figuring the fence needed to be ordered and paid for. The problem was Sanford said the installer never came back.

"It was about three weeks later and I asked what happened?" Sanford said. "We got told the shipment didn't come in. Well, OK. So we gave him another week. After that week, the shipment was in, but it was the wrong fence. And after that it was always an excuse, always."

Sanford ended up hiring a different company to install a fence, but she said she had been trying to get her money back for eight months from American Fence Company.

Sanford was not alone.

Gwinn Webster said she gave the same company $990 and said she was rushed into paying her deposit so she wouldn't miss the sale ending that day on the gate opener she needed.

"They were a fence company that had been around for a long time, and we needed a gate opener, and I called them and the lady I talked to said, 'Sure, we can do an opener for you,'" Webster said.

Webster said the company told her, "It was a total of $2,350 and I'll let you have it for $1,098, and half that would be the down payment."

And just like what happened to Sanford, no gate opener.

"My son and husband went over there," Webster said. "I've tried to call and call, never get no answer. Never can we talk to Karen, Karen is never in."

Webster said she has called at least a dozen times. She said her son and husband went to the company's office, and so did her daughter, and they left empty-handed.

Webster and Sanford both called the Better Business Bureau to try to get their money back. That's when they found out American Fence Company has had so many complaints against it that the BBB gives it an F rating.

Tom Stephens, the president of the BBB of Northeast Florida, said the company was accused of taking about $14,000 as deposits by nine people last year who complained the company never delivered their fences either.

The day of that interview, Stephens reached out to the state attorney's office, whose investigators began looking into the company's practices.

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