JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — An East Tennessee contractor charged with theft has agreed to a plea deal. This all started two years ago when a Texas man about to retire hired a Jefferson County contractor to make renovations to a home on Cherokee Lake.

For more than nine months, Retired Air Force LTC Jim Lance waited for the contractor he hired in 2019 to complete renovations that were supposed to take six weeks. Lance and his wife lived in Texas at the time and were planning to move to the lakeside home in Jefferson County once renovations were complete.

“This was supposed to be our forever home. We had done extensive research. Made several trips to the area,” said Lance.

He hired a licensed contractor, Roger Simpkins of New Market. In September of 2019, this $48,000 home improvement contract was signed by Simpkins.

“We went under contract it was supposed to be a six-week renovation. After six months it still was not completed,” said Lance.

In July of 2020, Simpkins said he’d honor his deal, but he never returned to finish the work. When speaking with Lance in 2020 he said, “the property as you know having seen it is a mess. He kept promising us, okay, this will be done by Christmas Eve. No, it will be done by the first part in January.

“When we came up there in February, it still hasn’t been done. There is no way my wife and I could pack up our furnishings in San Antonio and move into the property as it stands today.”

Fed up with no progress and the timetable to move-in running out, Lance said it was time to take legal action. “In March, things began to unravel and that’s when we initially contacted the Sheriff’s office here and then connected through the Sheriff’s office to the District Attorney.”

However, the pandemic delayed the legal process for another year. It wasn’t until November of 2021, that Roger Simpkins charged with theft was brought before a judge in Jefferson County where he pleaded to a lesser charge.

“The initial charge was a Class C felony for theft of services, that’s up to $10,000. The plea agreement is a Class A misdemeanor with the commitment to provide restitution. The initial payment was $25,000 with an additional $20,000 to be paid in monthly increments during the span of the next year,” said Lance.

That cash from the settlement will help ease the financial burden paid to another contractor in order to finish the renovations. Still, there’s some work to be done, the deck needs to be insured and the couple is not totally settled in yet. It’s been a lesson for the former military officer who is used to getting things done.

“There needs to be some type of task force formed to be able to review and provide recommendations to improve and to help eliminate contractor fraud in the state”, said Lance.

The retired Colonel said if there is such a committee established, he would like to be one of the first witnesses called to Nashville to testify.

When we talked with Simpkins’ attorney last year, we were told Simpkins’ work crew had been sick, but that was before COVID. The attorney also said a year ago that Simpkins was planning to complete the renovations.

Under Tennessee law, if a contractor breaks his deal and doesn’t finish the job, what you do is send a “Demand letter,” and, if it is ignored, then you can file theft charges with your police or sheriff’s department which is what Lance did. Unfortunately for him, it took a long time to get resolved.

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