Tenn. attorney general investigating Johnson City contractor for unfinished projects, ‘fake’ online reviews

Investigative

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Since the airing of the first News Channel 11 investigation into Wood Construction and Remodeling, LLC almost two weeks ago, the Tennessee attorney general’s office reports the number of consumer complaints they have received has more than doubled. Their office is actively investigating the company.

Wood Construction and Remodeling is a licensed Tennessee contracting company based in Johnson City. Customers across the state of Tennessee and into North Carolina continue to ask why their projects are not finished and where their money has gone.

WJHL confirmed Tuesday that Leighton ‘Joe’ Wood, owner of Wood Construction, has been sent a letter inviting him to an informal hearing on Oct. 28 in Nashville where his contractor’s license will be reviewed, and possibly revoked, by a state board.

On Oct. 7, the airing of WJHL’s first consumer report, 15 complaints had been filed to the Tennessee attorney general’s office against Wood Construction. Now, that number is at least 35 complaints.

The number of complaints filed with the North Carolina attorney general has grown from four to seven.

“That number of complaints in that brief a time period is rare,” said Tennessee Deputy Attorney General Jeff Hill.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office sent a cessation of unlawful conduct letter to Joe Wood, owner of Wood Construction, on Oct. 7. The letter outlines, what they call, multiple illegal actions taken by the company.

“There is an investigation. We have sent a letter demanding that Wood Construction stop certain conduct. We are continuing to look into it and talk to people about it,” said Hill.

Hill says of the seven illegal practices outlined in their letter, the first is that Wood Construction was charging an illegal amount of money upfront to its customers.

The letter states charging customers more than one-third of their contracts, without giving them a payment bond or a way to get a refund, is prohibited by Tennessee law.

“If you don’t do certain things, bonds, and certain things, you can’t charge 40 percent. Clearly, he has been doing that. We told them not to do that and we are waiting on a response to why it has happened,” Hill said.

All Wood Construction contracts stated money paid by customers was non-refundable.

The Wallace family of Bristol, Tennessee contracted Wood Construction to complete two projects. The first required 40 percent to be paid before any work was done – the second required 50 percent.

“80,000. We are out $80,000,” said Jacci Wallace.

Before moving to Bristol from Oregon, the Wallaces agreed with Wood Construction to fully renovate a farmhouse for Jacci’s parents on their property. The goal was to keep her father close by, as he has brain cancer.

The second contract was for a bathroom remodel in Jacci’s family’s main house.

“This is the master bathroom,” Wallace showed News Channel 11. “They came in and demo’d everything and then did a little bit of shoddy work like the accent tile. So we’ve been told that it all has to be torn out and redone.”

With the bathroom left unfinished for months, Wallace says the same goes for the farmhouse. There, she says no work was ever started.

“We were pretty patient for the first couple of months,” said Wallace. They signed their first contract in March, the second in May.

After asking for a refund, Wallace says that is when a Wood Construction crew came to start on her bathroom. Per her contract – an additional 40 percent deposit was then required.

“They got that second payment and then stopped showing up,” said Wallace.

Wallace and at least 20 other customers identified by News Channel 11 with unfinished projects say they have not heard a word from the company in weeks.

“I don’t think that any of us expected to hear from them,” said Wallace.

That is – until many of them received an email on Tuesday from Wood Construction, one day before the airing of this story, claiming the company has been acquired by ODJ Construction and Remodeling. The email stated that this company would handle all existing projects moving forward.

It reads:

Dear Customer,

This email is to inform you that Wood Construction and Remodeling llc has been acquired by ODJ Construction and Remodeling, and this company will be handling all customer jobs going forward.

We are in process of communication with all active customers concerning their contract related projects, so we may ascertain which clients wish to proceed with having their contracted work completed, or if a client would choose to have a refund of their payments wherein work has yet to be completed, or materials purchased.”

(Email sent by a Wood Construction employee)

No Tennessee contractor’s license exists for such a company.

The Tennessee attorney general’s office confirmed to News Channel 11 that someone, they did not name who, filed for a license as ODJ Construction and Remodeling Corporate with the Tennessee secretary of state on Wednesday, one day after many customers received the email alleging this company was taking over all projects. The AG’s office says the person who filed for ODJ Construction is using a Memphis address as a registered agent company.

The AG’s office told News Channel 11 this is not enough to actually work as a contractor or purchase a contractor in Tennessee.

The office also outline in their Oct. 7 letter to Joe Wood that they have proof the company was falsifying positive reviews online.

The letter reads:

“We have reason to believe that you have placed misleading reviews authored by your own employees on consumer sites … purporting to be customers.”

Tennessee Attorney General’s Office

“If you are being misleading or deceptive in reviews, if it’s not true, that’s a problem,” said Hill. “That can be a violation of the law.”

Wallace and multiple other customers said reading positive reviews online lead them to choosing Wood Construction for their projects.

“I read through all these reviews and they were decent. Not perfect, but decent and comparable to the other construction companies in the area. So, I figured we were safe,” said Wallace.

As far as what happens next, the Tennessee attorney general’s office is still working on their investigation and could file an injunction against the company to stop them from continuing alleged illegal activity.

“If you can’t perform the work you need to stop taking in money from other consumers. Otherwise, it becomes pretty clear you know what you are doing at some point,” said Hill.

Joe Wood is not required to attend the hearing where his license will be discussed later this month.

Stay with News Channel 11 for an update regarding the outcome of the hearing.

“I think we are absolutely resigned. We don’t think we are getting the money back. We certainly don’t think the work is going to be done. We would like to see people held accountable,” said Wallace.

WJHL’s multiple attempts to contact Joe Wood and the Wood Construction customer service line for comment on this story have both gone unanswered.

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