Contractor deposits pose financial risks during COVID-19

Home renovations have surged during COVID-19, and that’s why Action 9′s warning about big deposits is so urgent.

“Look, there’s no concrete, nothing,” Jawad Smiai said as he pointed to a fence post.

The post is one of two placed in the ground. Smiai said that’s all he got after a fence contractor cashed his $2,200 deposit.

“I worked hard for this money and they took it easy. They do nothing for it,” Smiai said.

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He contacted Dynamic Backyard Solutions for a free fence estimate at his Apopka home. But after his deposit check was cashed, he had trouble getting a hold of them.

“She disappeared for three days. And she contacted me back and said she was in the hospital, and stuff like that,” Smiai said.

Smiai is referring to Leslie Crawford, who operates Dynamic Backyard Solutions. And he said the man who handled the job is Ken Huffstutler, who Action 9 has investigated before about missing fence deposits.

Smiai said he kept complaining so a crew showed up and installed two posts but that’s all that ever happened.

“They put up those two posts as fast as they can and they ran away,” Smiai said.

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It’s more difficult for consumers to get their money back if even a small amount of work is done. Many times, the company will claim it’s just a civil dispute, nothing more.

Action 9 first found Ken Huffstutler connected to a company called Hurricane Fencing.

Two consumers said his business collected big deposits to replace fencing after Hurricane Irma, but he never finished the jobs.

Since then, Huffstutler pleaded no contest and was adjudicated guilty for petty theft after a customer in Osceola County said he took a $3,700 deposit for work never completed.

He’s currently serving probation for offenses in North Dakota after pleading guilty to grand theft and theft by deception.

A Dynamic Backyard Solutions manager told Todd Ulrich the company did nothing wrong and stopped work because Smiai had harassed its employees.

“I want them to stop doing it. Stop doing it to other people,” Smiai said.

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If anyone checks the company’s background online before writing a deposit check, you could avoid a classic contractor nightmare.

Avoid deposits if you can and use a credit card for protection. If those aren’t available options, it may be time to seek another contractor.

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich,

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.