COCOA, Fla. - Following a News 6 investigation into a driveway paving contractor accused of taking money from customers without performing work, authorities have arrested the former owner of Above Average Landscapes on theft-related charges.
John Storms, 52, turned himself into the Brevard County Jail on Oct. 30 after prosecutors obtained a warrant for his arrest.
Storms has been charged with violating a Florida law that requires contractors to begin work within 90 days of accepting payment totaling more than 10 percent of the contract price.
"Our client maintains his innocence and looks forward to his day in court to address these false accusations," Storms's attorney Mark Germain told News 6.
"It's amazing that we got these results," said Hector Collazo, one of the contractor's former customers who has spent more than two years trying to identify other potential victims. "I believe in justice, and I believe if you break the law it's going to catch up with you."
Multiple complaints filed against contractor
James Simandira was looking forward to buying an RV so he could take his mother-in-law on a sightseeing trip through Tennessee.
But first, he needed a larger driveway at his Cocoa home in which to park it.
After finding an advertisement on Craigslist for Above Average Landscapes, Simandira signed a contract with the company's owner, John Storms, agreeing to pay $10,268 for the installation of brick driveway pavers.
Simandira wrote Storms a $5,648 check in May 2015 as a down payment for the project.
More than a year later, the driveway was still unfinished.
"I'm angry. Very angry," Simandira told News 6 in 2016. "I paid that much money and I don't have anything to show for it."
Simandira is among several customers who spoke to News 6 about major delays that they said they encountered waiting for Above Average Landscapes to complete their paving projects.
"Nine months after I signed the contract, I'm still sitting here without a driveway," Keith Capizzi told News 6 last year. "(Storms) said it would take him about a week or two to finish it."
Records show that Capizzi paid the company a $3,500 deposit in August 2015.
Since then, he claims that Storms visited his Cocoa Beach home only once.
During that visit, the contractor used a large saw to cut lines in the existing concrete driveway, according to Capizzi.
"The city came by and threatened to give me a $200 fine because he made such a big mess," Capizzi said. "I actually had to take a day off of work to clean off the road."
Storms reportedly stopped by Sid Kirchheimer's Melbourne Beach home on a few occasions.
However, nearly a year after Kirchheimer said he paid Storms the first of two deposits totaling $6,100 to install driveway and walkway pavers, the yard remained torn up.
"He ignores your calls, he ignores your email messages," Kirchheimer told News 6. "And when he does respond, he's rude. He's combative."
Contractor responds to complaints
The paver contractor acknowledged that he has some unhappy customers.
“I’m sure I do,” Storms told News 6. “I’ve been doing the best I can.”
Storms, 50, claimed that a severe illness earlier this year prevented him from working.
“It is a very unfortunate circumstance,” Storms said. “I got very sick for 2½ months. I got behind.”
Even before that illness, Storms admitted that he was backlogged on projects.
“I was three or four months behind when I signed the jobs, and I told them that,” he said.
Even though some of the customers’ contracts include a clause giving Above Average Landscapes a year to finish the job, they claim that Storms promised completion much sooner.
“He said it’ll take two weeks to do it, three weeks at the maximum,” Kirchheimer told News 6. “He wouldn’t have gotten the job if he said, ‘I’m going to take over a year to do it.’”
Storms also blamed the construction delays on his inability to employ reliable subcontractors.
“Workers in Florida, they're terrible to hire most of the time,” Storms said. “It's hard to get people to come to work.”
Customers told News 6 that Storms had many other excuses for failing to show up.
“(Storms told me), ‘I can’t get up there because it is raining,” Simandira said. “But it wasn’t raining.”
Kirchheimer said Storms also blamed construction delays on equipment failures, truck problems and the death of a relative.
“He gives you every excuse under the sun for not showing up to do the work,” Kirchheimer said. “He dares you to cancel the contract so he can keep your deposit.”
Storms insists that all the excuses were legitimate.
“I didn't intentionally scam anybody or anything like that,” Storms said. “I’m not signing any (new) jobs or even advertising to do any jobs until I get these clients done.”
Customer takes legal action
Like other customers, Hector Collazo discovered Above Average Landscapes on Craigslist when he wanted driveway pavers installed at his Viera home. He paid the company a $2,850 deposit in January 2015, records show.
Four months later, after Storms admitted that he failed to begin the project by the estimated start date on the contract, Collazo said he began requesting a partial refund.
“I said, ‘Just give me $1,500 back. Let's kill this thing. Let's let it end. I'm begging,'" Collazo told News 6. “I even sent a letter to his wife saying, ‘Talk to your husband.’”
When Storms declined to return the money, Collazo filed a lawsuit in Brevard County Circuit Court against Above Average Landscapes, records show.
Storms soon filed a counter suit against Collazo, accusing the customer of making defamatory statements about the company in negative online reviews.
“We made the choice to stop (Collazo’s) project because of the harassment,” Storms's wife, Sherry, wrote in an email to News 6. “(Collazo) pretty much stopped our business from being able to complete these jobs.”
Neither John nor Sherry Storms provided details on how Collazo’s online reviews of Above Average Landscapes caused the construction delays experienced by Simandira, Kirchheimer and Capizzi.
“I know (John Storms) doesn’t like me because I told him, ‘I'm going to pursue you and put you in court,’” said Collazo, who eventually hired another company to finish his driveway project.
It took only four days to complete, he said.
Florida's Attorney General sues contractor
In October 2016, the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a lawsuit against Storms and his company.
According to the lawsuit, Storms took deposits from at least eight consumers totaling $33,898 but performed little to no work.
The Attorney General’s Office is seeking an injunction that would prevent Storms from engaging in deceptive and unfair trade practices. It is also demanding that Storms reimburse customers’ deposits and pay civil penalties.
"We are continuing to pursue a judgment in the civil case and hope to have a resolution soon," said Bondi's press secretary Kylie Mason.
Meanwhile, Storms's former customers are hoping prosecutors will seek prison time for the contractor.
"Get him off the streets," Simandira saud. "Get him out of Society. Keep him from robbing senior citizens like me."
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