ORLANDO, Fla. – A fence installation company is the target of a criminal investigation following allegations that employees collected large deposits from customers without beginning or completing jobs, News 6 has learned.
Family Fence LLC had only been in operation a few months when the first of at least nine lawsuits were filed by customers claiming employees failed to install fences at their homes or only did minimal site work.
Adam Cronenwett, whose customers said used the alias “Jeff Cox” while working on behalf of Family Fence, has been wanted by authorities in Pinellas and Hernando counties since 2018 for grand theft and organized fraud related to a prior fence installation business he owned, law enforcement records show.
Cronenwett’s business partner at Family Fence, Donald Tomko, said he was unaware of the arrest warrants but declined to answer questions about whether he knew Cronenwett used an alias while interacting with customers.
“Jeff/Adam was trying to get his kids back and he approached me about making money in Orlando by starting a fence company,” Tomko told News 6 in a text message. “I knew he had a fence company that went bad but I made sure my jobs got done. I had no idea he was wanted by the law.”
Many former customers of Family Fence claim they’ve been trying unsuccessfully for months to obtain refunds.
“They’re getting away with it,” said Cindy Valarezo. “It’s just very frustrating to see this happening.”
Valarezo received a flyer advertising Family Fence around the same time she was getting ready to install a privacy fence around her Lake County home.
After contacting the company, Valarezo said a man who identified himself as “Jeff Cox” showed up at her home to provide an estimate.
“He was very kind. Very knowledgeable. And he seemed like a very nice guy,” she said.
Valarezo did not realize the fence installer had used an alias until News 6 showed her a photo of Cronenwett from his Facebook page and a jail booking photo from a previous arrest.
“Yes, that’s him!” said Valarezo, identifying Cronenwett as the man she knew as “Jeff Cox."
Valarezo paid Family Fence a $3,500 deposit in November 2019 for a new fence, according to an invoice.
After waiting nearly two months for the company to begin work, Valarezo said Cronenwett and two other workers spent a few hours digging 3-feet-deep post holes along the perimeter of her yard.
“(Cronenwett) said, ‘We’ll be back tomorrow and finish the work’,” Valarezo told News 6.
After workers failed to show up the following day and then missed another scheduled appointment to install the fence, Valarezo said Cronenwett promised to provide a full refund.
Yet nearly one year after hiring Family Fence, Valarezo claims she’s still waiting for her money.
“The last thing I want anyone to do is to hire this company,” she said.
Tomko, who identified Cronenwett as his business partner after viewing photos provided by News 6, claims he helped establish Family Fence last year but did not run the company.
“I haven’t been involved in the fence business for over a year,” Tomko said during an interview outside his Tampa home last week. “I was the owner of the company. But I was really the investor, is what I was. I was not hands-on.”
Another former customer questions Tomko’s description of the business arrangement.
“Tomko himself is the one who came to the house to pick up the money,” said Richard Bueno, who paid Family Fence a $450 deposit to replace a fence gate that was never installed.
Before providing the cash deposit to the business owner, Bueno’s wife took a photograph of Tomko’s driver’s license placed next to a receipt dated February 2020.
Bueno never met Cronenwett but said he spoke on the phone several times with a man who identified himself as “Jeff Cox”.
“It’s sad, because now I don’t trust any contractor,” said Bueno, who has filed a lawsuit against Family Fence in small claims court.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has launched an ongoing criminal investigation into Family Fence, an agency spokesperson confirmed to News 6.
In 2018, a Pinellas county circuit court judge issued an arrest warrant for Cronenwett after prosecutors charged him with grand theft and contracting without a license.
According to a detective, a customer paid Cronenwett’s former company, Metro Fences, a $2,000 deposit for a fence that was never installed.
Authorities in Hernando County have also issued an arrest warrant for Cronenwett on charges of grand theft and organized fraud following similar complaints about Metro Fences there, according to WFLA-TV.
News 6 left multiple messages for Cronenwett at phone numbers once associated with him, as well as at a phone number with a voicemail greeting recorded by a man identifying himself as “Jeff Cox” that he reportedly provided to Family Fence customers.
Cronenwett has not responded to News 6′s requests for comment.
Tomko, who claims he’s lost more than $35,000 in the Family Fence business and now works as a ride share driver, insists he does not have any customers' money.
“I’m a Christian man. It’s not right if someone took money and didn’t do the work. That’s not right at all,” said Tomko.
News 6 asked Tomko who is responsible for refunding customers' deposits.
“You’ve got to talk to my partner, who’s Jeff Cox,” he replied.