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."
A suspected drug dealer accused of selling fentanyl-laced heroin to a man who fatally overdosed is facing a homicide charge, according to officials with the Altamonte Springs Police Department.
Tyron Bradshaw, 26, was originally arrested in July in connection with the death then was re-arrested Tuesday after police said he missed his scheduled court appearance.
On July 4, officers were called to Lake Lotus Club Condos, where they said found a woman named Shaina Palama performing CPR on her boyfriend, Mark Nelson. First responders were unable to revive Nelson, and he died at an area hospital, the report said.
"It was very hard, very hard just being there, experiencing all of it, and never thought anything like that would happen in my lifetime or to someone I was really close to or anything like that," Palama said.
She and Nelson had been dating for nearly two years, but she had no idea that he was using heroin until two days before his death, when he first overdosed. She described him as a great man who loved eating tacos and watching the Patriots play.
Police said they found heroin that tested positive for fentanyl on the center console of Nelson's vehicle, along with his cellphone.
"I told him right before he left to get some food that day, I told him, 'You need to stop, or you are going to end up in jail or dead.' Those were the last things I said face-to-face to him. That's even worse, that's even harder," Palama said.
Officers said they looked through the cellphone and found texts from Nelson to a suspected heroin dealer, later identified as Bradshaw, the report said.
Texts on Nelson's phone to Bradshaw indicated that the two men had set up a drug deal at a local RaceTrac gas station less than an hour before Nelson fatally overdosed, according to the affidavit.
Police said they used Nelson's phone on July 5 to text Bradshaw about setting up another drug deal at the same gas station.
"100 of the same (expletive) as last night racetrack?" the officer texted Bradshaw, according to the report.
Bradshaw replied that he would be there within five minutes, the report said. Police arrested him when he approached Nelson's car, which police had driven to the gas station, the report said.
Police said they found $6,303 in cash, paraphernalia and a digital scale in Bradshaw's car.
Bradshaw was charged with homicide resulting from the distribution of a controlled substance, selling heroin and marijuana possession. He is being held at the Seminole County Jail without bond.
Palama said she found out Wednesday, the day that would have been Nelson's birthday, that Bradshaw would be facing a homicide charge in connection with her former boyfriend's death.
"Hes out there selling this drug that he knows is dangerous to people and that's what he's doing -- he's killing them. He is the reason why they are dying, he's supplying their death," Palama said.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there is help available. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline for free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
The Puerto Rican population in Kissimmee continues to grow as Hurricane Maria evacuees move to the Central Florida area.
Area leaders said Kissimmee and Osceola County are ground zero for evacuees.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson along with Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto sat and listened to community leaders in Kissimmee talk about what their concerns and needs were in order to move forward with helping evacuees.
"This is a communication problem. We have got to get out to people that have come here are fellow American citizens from the island to let them know what is available," Nelson said.
Osceola County School Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace was among the group.
She addressed the growing number of students in the school system.
Within the past few weeks, more than 1,700 students have enrolled and that number is expected to grow.
The students' mental health has also drawn concern.
Pace told Nelson mental health referrals doubled last week.
Two local church leaders who have been helping evacuees with food, jobs and other necessities since Hurricane Maria also spoke at the event.
"The needs that these families have are greater than a church can do. That we have been working from the very beginning and we're committed to the long term but some of these solutions are much bigger," said Jose Nieves, associate pastor with First Kissimmee United Methodist Church.
Soto said he and Nelson have been working to get answers from FEMA in regard to housing.
"We need to have FEMA approve the vouchers for leases and look into this idea from our local officials about some of these hotels that are not open right now," Soto said.
A FEMA representative in Puerto Rico told News 6 they're working to answer questions about the future of housing in Central Florida as well as how long the Transitional Shelter Program will last.
Until then, Nelson said he and area leaders will work to get answers and results of their own.
"When it comes to FEMA, I will beat their door down," Nelson said. "Just wrote to the Appropriations Committee and said it up in Washington, said the president's proposal for $1.2 billion -- that's just scratching the surface. We are going to have to have a lot more funds and that is why we not only have had two emergency funding bills, all of the hurricanes, we have another one coming and now we're going to have to have another one. A fourth one before Christmas."
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