by Kendra Budd, Associate Editor
Restoration contractors are often seen as heroes in times of natural disasters; but for every hero—there’s a villain. Unfortunately, there are some contractors and restoration companies that take advantage of people in need—giving a bad rap to restoration contractors everywhere.
Here’s the story of a Florida restoration contractor who defrauded and stole over $140,000 from his clients and their insurance companies.
The state of Florida is well-known for its hurricanes and in the aftermath of a hurricane, many homes need roof repairs. Unfortunately, some of these people get taken advantage by restoration companies instead of receiving the help they desperately need.
Two such unscrupulous restoration companies were Nationwide Catastrophe Services Inc. (NCS) and Restoration Response Services (RRS)—both of which were owned by licensed roofing contractor, Timothy Matthew Cox.
Florida detective Robert Jackson outlines a horrendous story in his affidavit of prosecution summary. Jackson interviewed 19 victims across 8 Florida counties between 2016–2017 who were negatively impacted by NCS and RRS. In each of the 19 cases, salespeople employed by one of the two companies convinced homeowners to sign an Assignment of Benefits contract (AOB). Thus, “allowing NCS to replace the roof and NCS’s or RRS’s name to appear on the check for payment from the homeowner’s insurance company. The AOB also allows NCS and RRS rights to the homeowner’s insurance benefits for their damaged properties,” writes Jackson.
In all 19 cases, the companies did not replace or fix any of the roofs. Someclients even reported the materials to repair their homes were dropped off and left on the roofs. However, none of the workers came back, causing the roofs to sag from the weight of the materials. Instead, NCS and RRS cashed in the insurance checks, as well as some personal checks from their clients despite never completing the work. Clients complained to the companies for months but were ignored.
Police interviewed Cox during this time, where he claimed at the time he was ill, but that his Jacksonville Manager, Melissa “Missy” Jones, had full control over the business. “Cox explained he was aware business was slow and more money was being paid out than the companies were bringing in; however he didn’t realize they were that far behind in work. Cox told the detectives that he would ensure the money was paid back to the homeowners or the roofs would be replaced,” read the affidavit.
As of 2018, when the affidavit was submitted, none of the roofs were replaced and none of the money was returned.
The first victims of the scheme were married couple Carmen and Ivan Bedran.
After the hurricane, the Bedrans contracted with Cox and negotiations began with their insurance company. Cox was paid $5,748.76 by the Bedrans’ insurance company, according to investigators.
Ivan Bedran alleged that NCS placed materials on the roof, but never returned to remove the existing roof nor install a new one. By leaving the materials on the roof, NCS damaged it further, resulting in additional leaks. Cox’s permit expired in mid-2016 before NCS ever started re–roofing, but collected the insurance money anyway. To make matters worse, the Bedrans’ roof was further damaged after Hurricane Irma passed through. They tried hiring another company, but that one only placed a tarp on the roof. Because the Bedrans were taken advantage of by two companies, the Bedrans’ insurance company withheld over six thousand dollars of their insurance benefits.
Another notable victim was Susan Stillwell, who was the reason this story was able to get local attention by writing about her experience to Channel 9 news. In 2017, Stillwell told Detective Jackson she signed an Assignment of Benefits with NCS at the end of 2015, but as of the date of the interview, still did not have her roof replaced, “despite signing her insurance benefits in the amount of $7,769.38 over to NCS.”
After weeks of having no work completed Stillwell contacted Channel 9 News. A month later Gary Wilkerson, an employee of NCS, called Stillwell to apologize and assure her that her roof would be fixed and upgraded. After several attempts to obtain a refund, NCS finally came through…with $1,410.00. This was to cover interior damages, which Stillwell fixed herself. However, when Detective Jackson conducted the interview with Stillwell, NCS was still in possession of the remaining money and still hadn’t completed the work.
Stillwell and the Bedrans are just 2 of the 19 victims who were affected by Cox’s fraud scheme, and the stories stay pretty consistent. Clients signed an AOB; Cox collected insurance money; contractors never came to start or finish work. In fact, NCS’s page on BuildZoom is full of one-star reviews. One reads, “If I could give these people a zero I would; they are absolute thieves with no skill set to put a roof on…took 4 months [to repair] during hurricane season causing a leak. Missy Walker should never have a job.”
While, another one reads: “Very poor communication. Gave NCS my claim check and now [they] won’t return my calls. Going on 9 months since I started this process. Haven’t heard anything about a start date.” A majority of these negative were made between 2015 to 2017 claiming no return of their money.
So where did that money go? Well, Detective Jackson was able to get help from Sherrie M. Elmahmoud, a Certified Criminal Financial Analyst assigned to the Orlando Bureau of Statewide Prosecution. Elmahmoud completed a financial analysis on bank records between September of 2015 to December of 2016; the account was under Cox’s name. Elmahmoud was able to identify over 1 million dollars of withdrawals on the accounts including to pay contractors, entertainment expenses, consumer goods, services and donation expenses. Additionally, almost 46 thousand dollars was withdrawn from ATMs.
It became clear after this financial analysis, that Cox was using a majority of the insurance money he collected for his own personal gain. It was concluded by Detective Jackson, “Payment for the victim’s roofs were received by NCS and Timothy Cox’s disbursements to his girlfriend, daughter, her boyfriend, payments for consumer goods, donations, and services resulted in insufficient funds to complete the roofs for the named victims.”
Justice is Served
Detective Jackson argued in his investigation that Cox was guilty of racketeering and grand theft. Cox was arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail in late 2018. He is facing eight counts of grand theft and one of racketeering.
He is currently awaiting trial for all nine counts against him.
This particular case provides a clear look into how unscrupulous contractors can take advantage of the public during difficult times. With corrupt companies taking advantage of the natural disasters that are constantly making headlines, it is no wonder clients find it hard to trust most restoration contractors.
Restoration contractors provide a tremendous service to the public and frequently deal with people who are going through some of the hardest, worst days of their lives. That is why it is important as a restoration contractor, if you suspect someone in your line of work is committing fraud then it is your duty to report it. Be careful (and ethical) out there!