Getting Results: Unlicensed plumber arrested

Robert Hibbert accused of fraud, home invasion

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

PALM BAY, Fla. - A New Jersey man with a lengthy criminal record was arrested for defrauding a Palm Bay couple by illegally posing as a plumber, court records show.

Robert Hibbert, 55, never obtained a Florida plumbing contractor license after moving to Central Florida last year, state officials indicated.

Police have recommended 10 felony charges against Hibbert, including home invasion using a false persona.  Authorities claim Hibbert fraudulently posted the license number of a legitimate plumber in his advertisements.

Hibbert was arrested less than two weeks after News 6 spoke with a couple who claims Hibbert ripped them off.

When water from an underground pipe began seeping up through the concrete floor and soaking the carpet in Frank and Debra Morris's house, the couple turned to the home improvement website HomeAdvisor to find a plumber.

A listing for Sage Plumbing, based in Vero Beach, stated the company was a certified plumbing contractor and displayed a Florida license number. 

"My dad would always ask contractors for their license," said Debra Morris, who said she felt comfortable hiring the plumber based on the HomeAdvisor website's assurance that the company had been "screened and approved.”

But the man who the couple said showed up at their home, Robert Hibbert, is not a licensed plumber, state records confirmed.

Hibbert was released from a New Jersey prison in July 2016 after serving a three-year sentence for theft by deception.

Hibbert took more than $83,000 from a visually impaired woman for home improvement repairs that should have cost her only $3,200, according to The Press of Atlantic City

In 2001, Hibbert began serving a five-year prison sentence for theft by deception, according to the New Jersey Department of Corrections. Details of that crime were not immediately available.

"He went from New Jersey to Florida doing the same thing," said Frank Morris. "He's definitely got us on a scam."

The Morrises said that they paid Hibbert $9,300 to dig under the concrete floor of their bathroom and hallway, repair the water leak, and reinstall carpet and tile.

But the couple claims that other than using a jackhammer to break up the concrete and using a camera to locate the leak, Hibbert failed to finish the job.

"All he did was make a mess," said Debra Morris.

The couple claims Hibbert charged them a $1,300 disposal fee to get rid of their wet carpet.

"I walked outside and next to the garage was this rug and pad," said Frank Morris.  "It never made it to the dump."

The Morrises said that Hibbert charged them an additional $500 to move a bathroom vanity that they claim never budged.

Hibbert did not return multiple phone calls and emails from News 6 seeking comment.

When a News 6 reporter stopped by the address listed on Hibbert's HomeAdvisor profile, Hibbert spoke very little as he quickly walked to his backyard.

"(The Morrises) are terrible people," said Hibbert as he closed a gate behind him.  "They're not good."

When News 6 inquired about his plumbing license, Hibbert claimed to have one.

"I got it," he said.

But Hibbert does not hold a plumbing or general contractor license in Florida, according to the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The agency filed an administrative complaint against Hibbert in April for allegedly doing unlicensed plumbing work at a different home in Okeechobee less than three months after he was released from a New Jersey prison.  That case remains open.

The license number posted on Hibbert's HomeAdvisor listing for Sage Plumbing actually belongs to a plumber who runs an identically named company based in Pompano Beach.

"I don't know (Hibbert). This guy is not working for me," licenseholder Michel Sage told News 6.  "This guy is wrong."

Shortly after News 6 contacted HomeAdvisor about Hibbert's questionable listing, the company removed his profile from its website.

"His approval status to be matched to consumers was on hold due to the discrepancies in the licensing, but his profile was still showing," said HomeAdvisor spokeswoman Brooke Gabbert.  "We are addressing that fix with our tech team immediately."

HomeAdvisor conducts criminal and civil record searches to screen service professionals.  However, it only checks records in the state where the owner's company is located, according to the company's website.

Even though Hibbert has an extensive record in New Jersey, he does not have any criminal record or civil actions against him in Florida, records show.

"We’ve expedited the integration of an advanced open-source web screening tool, capable of identifying negative news and other important information that may not be available via public records databases," said Gabbert.  "Our screening relies on data in the national criminal database, which did not identify Hibbert’s conviction."

Although the Morrises do not blame HomeAdvisor for their problems with Hibbert, the company voluntarily offered to compensate the couple $1,750 for costs not covered by their homeowner's insurance policy.

"We are so happy," said Debra Morris.  "Thank you to everybody who helped us."

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation has received three complaints against Hibbert for allegedly performing unlicensed plumbing, state records show.

"I want him to go to prison," said Debra Morris.  "If you trust the man, you're going to get screwed."

Palm Bay police are urging people who’ve hired Hibbert to contact Detective Lewis Jones at lewis.jones@pbfl.org or call CRIMELINE at 1-800-423-TIPS.

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