KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – An unlicensed contractor faced a judge Tuesday for the first time on a theft charge. The case was brought before the court by a widow who got tired of waiting for the contractor to finish his job.
The Knoxville widow is one of several people who hired the contractor and his brother who are in business together. Carolyn Whited waited months for the contractors she hired to finish remodeling her home, saying they were way behind schedule. She ended up hiring a second contractor to complete the work.
In most cases like this one, when a job is incomplete, people file civil lawsuits, but Whited used a law passed by the state legislature a few years ago to get one of the contractors before a judge on a felony charge.
Over the past two years, Warren Presley’s customers told WATE 6 On Your Side that Presley frequently changed the name of his company, but the way he conducted business remained constant.
“The criminal case was filed in February when we couldn’t get any kind of response,” said Whited.
Fed up with delay tactics by Presley, Whited filed theft charges. She said Presley, who is an unlicensed contractor, kept coming up with excuses.
“They never finish the job. That is not what they are in business to do,” Whited said.
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Whited’s husband died in 2014, but before he passed, it was his dream to improve their home in West Knoxville. Grading the backyard started in May of last year, but by late summer, remodeling the house stalled and then stopped.
The paperwork was signed in May 2016, 17 months ago, for $52,000 for the total job. Whited paid them $51,000. The contract was with RFG Construction owned by Warren Presley and his brother Jonathan. She said Warren Presley signed the check.
A very frustrated Barbara Croft said two years ago that she and her husband Rudy waited over six months for the Presley brothers to finish their garage, even though they received two-thirds of the money in advance. The couple heard constant excuses.
“‘Well we’ll be here next Wednesday. Then we change our plans to accommodate him and he’s a no show,'” they said. The contract was with RFG Flooring, a different name from RFG Construction.
Last May, Don Hudson helped Amey Elias, a recent widow, set up a closet in her new house, a job the Presleys were supposed to do. She moved into a Tellico Village home last February. In March, she hired EPM Handyman Services, yet another name used by Warren and Jonathan Presley. She paid them 90 percent upfront, but Elias showed work left undone and couldn’t get them to return.
“My husband passed away and I came here to enjoy my life and have a little house of my own and have some peace in my life. Yet, I don’t have any peace. It’s awful,” Elias said.
In July of this year, Amy and Michael Sturgill showed WATE their unfinished garage, a job that started in mid-May but ended suddenly a month later.
“They said their projected completion date would be before July 4,” said Michael Sturgill.
The couple hired EMP Handyman and Remodeling, another name used by the Presleys.
For months, Whited has been working with deputies and the Knox County District Attorney’s office using a relatively new law to get Warren Presley in court and charged with theft since he signed the papers.
“This falls under the law that you worked on to get in Tennessee that deals with contractors that target vulnerable people, widows and older people,” said Whited.
In 2010, the Tennessee General Assembly signed a new law designed to protected unsuspecting homeowners from contractors who leave work incomplete. Felony theft charges can be filed if the job is started then stopped without explanation. Once a demand letter is sent and work is not resumed, the contractor could end up before a judge.
“They are in business to put you off and put you off and get more money,” said Whited.
Warren Presley is expected to enter a plea at hearing next month as his case is moved to the white collar crime unit, which focuses on fraud and financial crimes. In a brief discussion, Presley said he’s done nothing wrong and that he wanted to finish remodeling Whited’s home.