Continuing an effort to bring criminal charges in consumer protection cases, Ohio has indicted three individuals for engaging in a tree-trimming theft operation that targeted elderly victims.
Consumer protection issues are often handled as civil matters, meaning that the culprits may be fined but not jailed, while criminal charges can result in jail time and probation as well as fines and other penalties.
"In March, I pledged to devote more of the office's resources to helping prosecutors take criminal action against the most malicious scam artists operating in our state," Attorney General Mike DeWine said. "These indictments are a good example of how these partnerships can bring criminals to justice.”
A Greene County grand jury recently indicted Jason R. Johnson, Timothy Henery, and Christopher Gibbs for engaging in a theft enterprise that targeted elderly consumers. The enterprise allegedly deceived victims into believing they needed tree trimming or lawn care work because their trees were diseased, damaged, or unsafe.
Work wasn't done
The individuals allegedly accepted money for work that was never completed, and infiltrated legitimate tree trimming companies to trick their victims into believing they were credible.
Timothy Henery and Christopher Gibbs have been served their indictments. Jason R. Johnson, the leader of the operation, has not been located. He is a 28-year-old white male whose last known address was in Springfield, Ohio.
Since March 2011, cases referred from the Ohio Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Division to local prosecutors have resulted in five indictments – three in Greene County, one in Hamilton County, and one in Jackson County. By comparison, in all of 2010, only two consumer cases that were referred to local prosecutors resulted in prosecutions.
DeWine warns consumers to beware of any contractors who:
Fail to provide proper identification
Demand a large down payment (more than one third of the total cost)
Use high-pressure sales tactics
Have a poor reputation or no reputation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
Refuse to provide written information.
To protect themselves, consumers should follow these guidelines:
Be cautious of people who knock on your door and want to do the work immediately.
Businesses who solicit you at your home are required to give a three-day right to cancel and should not begin the work before the three days.
Get written estimates from several businesses, don't just go with the first estimate.