Intentionally Preyed Upon Older Homeowners
Matthew G.T. Martin, United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, announced today that two individuals have been charged with conspiracy to defraud in a home repair scheme.
On April 30th, Jorge Alberto Garcia, also known as “Roberto Garcia” and “Alberto Garcia”, age 38, and Helen Smith-Flores, also known as “Helen Smith”, age 40, both of Chapel Hill, NC, were charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit wire fraud to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.
“The allegations in the Complaint lay bare a depraved scheme: two individuals working in concert to take money from elderly and vulnerable people,” said U.S. Attorney Martin. “The defendants allegedly presented themselves as helpers and the victims trusted them, only to be left poorer, and still in need of repairs to the place where they should feel most secure–their homes. We should honor our elders, not deceive and defraud them. We applaud the law enforcement agencies whose diligent work and collaboration resulted in these charges.”
The Complaint alleges that from September 2015 to April 2020, Garcia and Smith-Flores approached elderly, retired individuals at their private residences in Durham, Orange, and Chatham Counties, offering home improvement services using the business names “J&J Home Improvement” and “JH Home Improvements, Inc.” Garcia, who never had a state general contractor’s license, would offer to perform home improvement projects and these elderly individuals would, in turn, pay him prior to the completion of any construction work via personal checks, credit cards, or withdrawals from investment accounts.
Garcia would often direct that these individuals leave the “to” line of the check blank (which would later be completed in the name of Smith-Flores), or issue the check directly to Smith-Flores who, in turn, deposited the checks into personal accounts in her name or that of her business, La Cacerola. She would then withdraw the money in cash or issue a cashier’s check made out to Garcia. The couple would also take the checks to the elderly individual’s bank or their bank and cash the checks without depositing the funds into their bank accounts.
Prosecutors said Gacia would develop personal relationships with the elderly victims, calling them “Momma” and “Poppa,” and encouraged them to solicit their neighbors to engage his services in home improvement projects for their residences. He also solicited loans from some of the elderly individuals for whom he had already contracted to perform home improvement projects, separate and apart from those projects.
Authorities said Garcia would not complete the contracted home improvement projects, nor would he repay any loans in full. When the victims, a concerned relative of that person, or a local law enforcement officer confronted him about the payments, the couple would respond by either promising to send workers to complete the project but never fully complete the project; return a small percentage of the monies paid for the project; or write a personal check to the victim that would be returned by the bank due to a lack of funds.
A review of records from bank accounts known to be controlled by Garcia and Smith-Flores between February 2016 and November 2019 indicates they obtained a total of approximately $2.2 million from more than 50 victims.
“It is difficult to fathom how Garcia and his wife could target, prey upon, and systematically rip off elderly victims without a second thought. Now, they can think long and hard about the hefty federal charges they face. The FBI will continue to try and identify as many victims as possible of their home improvement scheme,” said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina.
The FBI is seeking victims who may have been defrauded by the couple. If you believe you are a victim of or have been affected by this scheme, please go to NCHIVictims@fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI and make a report.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum term of 20 years imprisonment, a term of supervised release of not more than 3 years, a fine not to exceed $250,000.00, and a mandatory special assessment of $100.00.
Jorge Garcia is currently in state custody serving a 90 day sentence for criminal contempt of a 2017 order barring him practicing general contracting in North Carolina. His wife was served with a summons and the federal complaint earlier today. She is scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court in Greensboro on May 7, 2020.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in coordination with the Durham Police Department, Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, Chapel Hill Police Department, Carrboro Police Department, Cary Police Department, and others. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney JoAnna G. McFadden.