KINGSTON, Tenn. (WATE) - The number of families ripped off by a business in Kingston continues to grow. The families hired a man to install and repair their chimneys. The businessman took their money, but never delivered.
Families that did business with the company said they trusted the owner and operator. They thought it was standard practice to charge either two thirds of the bill or full cost up front. The money was handed over in November and December, but absolutely no work has been done.
Crystal Borum expected to have a new fireplace insert in her home by now. Ed Lee expected to have repairs to his wood burning stove completed by now. Both had signed contracts with Starnes Woodstove and Patio Store in Kingston. Jody Starnes' business is also known as Starnes Chimney Sweeps.
"He told us that to get on his schedule because he's so busy, we needed to come down and pick out an insert and pay for it up front. We paid a total of $5,677," said Borum.
Borum said Starnes wanted the money in advance so he could buy the chimney insert.
"We were excited. We bought this house. We always wanted a fireplace," she said.
In late December, the Borums dipped into their savings and paid Starnes nearly $6,000 with no second thoughts.
Starnes required a $2,000 down payment, two thirds of the $3,000 total, to replace and repair chimney pipes to Ed Lee's woodstove.
"We don't have a new pipe, we don't have anything. This happened November 22 of 2017. It was supposed to be installed sometime from mid-December to mid-January," said Lee. "Never happened."
"No insert. We've called. Left messages. There were times we called said the voice mail was full," said Borum.
There was no answer when WATE 6 On Your Side called the business. Peering through the office window show there is lots of stuff inside. It looks like someone had just left the store for the day, but left outside the building are several crates of wood stoves.
WATE 6 On Your Side called the wholesaler. The stoves were delivered in late February and mid-March, but never set up.
"I felt like we were fools. We've just been played," said Borum.
Kingston police tell WATE 6 On Your Side that Jody Starnes has been charged with two counts of theft after signing a contract, taking money but doing nothing. His day in court is May 8.
"At this point, I probably would just as soon not deal with him and get a refund of the $2,000," said Lee.
"What I want now is my money back. Even if he said, I'll come and do the work. No, because I don't trust him," said Borum.
In the past, only a civil lawsuit could be made against a contractor who was paid in advance for a service or product but didn't deliver or did no work. A relatively new state law says a felony can be charged against a contractor if money is accepted but absolutely no work is done within three months.
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