KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A contractor claims he’s going to repay a Knoxville man $12,000 for a job he never started. The contractor was hired in March to build a garage, but it never got off the ground. The builder could face a felony charge if he doesn’t return the money.

Under Tennessee law, if you have a contract and the work doesn’t begin within 90 days, you can go to local authorities if your demand letter is ignored by the contractor. If the evidence shows you’ve been scammed, theft charges could be filed.

A big area of Jim Koren’s backyard has been cleared away. He’s stacked up bricks to be used for his new garage There was once on garage in the space, but he had it torn to make way for a new one.

“Well, I wanted a detached garage that was going to store my lawnmowers, chainsaws, and garden equipment,” said Koren.

Koren signed a contract in early March 2023. The contractor received a cashier’s check for $12,000, 25% of the total cost. He hired Enoch Schmaltz of EAS Property Services, with addresses in Knox and McMinn counties. However, since paying the money, Koren said Schmaltz hasn’t been back and he has called him several times.

“He doesn’t answer his phone. The only way I can get him to communicate with me was by text message. Sometimes he would just ignore my text messages,” said Koren.

Dchmaltz’s mug shot is on record with the McMinn County Sheriff’s Office after being charged with theft earlier this year. That was a month before Koren hired him to build the garage.

“I sent him many text messages. All I got when he did respond was that he was having to do this or that. Or, he was waiting on his contractors to get back with him. He made excuse after excuse,” said Koren.

Koren sent a demand letter to Schmaltz stating the facts. It’s the first step before filing theft charges under the law.

“The fact that he has not done anything since we signed the contract on March the 7th. He hasn’t done one thing physically on this project,” said Koren.

The letter was sent by certified mail to the last known Knoxville address for Schmaltz.

“It went to two different addresses, he cannot be located. So the letter was returned to me,” said Koren.

WATE called Schmaltz to learn his side of the story. However, the call went to his voicemail, which said the mailbox was full and could not accept any messages at this time. Within hours of the call, Schmaltz texted WATE and he called Jim. Schmaltz said his “business has taken a bad turn” and he is “out of business.” However, he said he “will work diligently” to get Koren his money back and to pay him in full.

Koren has already hired a second contractor. He’s fully confident this new builder will get the job done. In his text to us, Schmaltz said he’s apologized to Koren. He told us that if he doesn’t hear from Schmaltz soon, he will continue pressing charges for theft.