St. Louis, Mo., July 27, 2011 - Residents of Missouri, Illinois and Kansas say they lost thousands of dollars each to a contractor from Columbia, Mo., who took money for building projects and then did little or no work.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers to be extremely cautious when dealing with Joshua B. Whitlock or the businesses Select Living Designs or Resort Barn. The BBB has learned that Whitlock may have fled to Florida in recent weeks after customers told police he tricked them into paying for work that was never done.
“He sat at my table and lied to me,” said a man from Boone County, Mo., who contends that Whitlock cost him about $22,000 after the builder reneged on an agreement to erect a small house near Columbia. “I’m flabbergasted by how blatant he was; he had no intention of building anything.”
Select Living Designs has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible, after failing to respond to consumer complaints.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said it appears that Whitlock has used a variety of aliases and several different business names in a scheme to get customers to make advance payments for construction work.
“These people signed contracts in good faith and expected Mr. Whitlock to live up to those contracts,” Corey said. “Unfortunately, the agreements proved to be little more than empty promises.”
Records show that Whitlock, 30, was given probation five years ago in Boone County, Mo., after pleading guilty to a charge of felony theft.
In January of this year, Whitlock again was charged with felony theft, this time in Madison County, Ill., for allegedly stealing $8,000 from a man near Worden, Ill. That customer told the BBB that he paid Whitlock the money as a down payment to build a cabin. After some preliminary excavation work, the man never heard from Whitlock again.
Court records show that Whitlock was arrested, posted a $2,000 cash bond and then failed to appear for a preliminary hearing on the case last month. The consumer said Whitlock was operating under the business name Resort Barn.
Consumers have filed two recent BBB complaints involving construction projects in Kansas. In one of those cases, a customer from Linwood, Kan., said he used a credit card to pay a man he knew as Rick Richards $4,000 toward construction of a barn. Police have said Richards is an alias used by Whitlock. The customer said the man did no work in return for the payment. “He got me,” the man said.
Most customers said they learned of Whitlock or his business through Craigslist. They also said they were convinced the company was legitimate because of a professional- looking website and Whitlock’s use of construction terminology. Until recently, the business had offices in the 600 block of North Tradewinds Parkway in Columbia.
The Boone County consumer said he, too, dealt with a man identifying himself as Rick Richards with Select Living Designs. He said he notified the Boone County sheriff’s department when the work was not completed. “The guy is slick,” he said.
The BBB made several attempts to contact Whitlock by phone and email, without success.
The BBB offers the following tips to consumers looking to hire a contractor:
- Be cautious about hiring contractors through classified listings such as Craigslist. It is usually best to deal with a company in your area with a solid track record.
- Don’t be fooled by professional-looking websites and online testimonials. Such testimonials are easily fabricated.
- If you have any concerns about a contractor, ask to visit its offices or showroom to help assure yourself that it is a legitimate business.
- Make payments as work progresses; do not make a large upfront payment.
- Check BBB Business Reviews at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-584-6800, firstname.lastname@example.org; Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell), email@example.com; Bill Smith, Investigator, 314-584-6727, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Mike Odneal, Mid-Missouri Branch Manager, 573-886-8965, email@example.com