WTOC Investigates: Beaufort County contractor allegedly swindles citizens

BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) - Hiring someone to build or renovate your home is a costly decision. It can become even more costly if you pick the wrong person.

One man in the Lowcountry found out just how big of a headache that can be. Neil WIlson hired a man he said he paid thousands of dollars to, yet the work never got done.

We found a pair of lawsuits with strikingly similar claims. The plaintiffs in each case provided proof they paid Woodrow Rivers thousands of dollars, and he disappeared.

To say Wilson is frustrated would be an understatement.

"I'm a little embarrassed to say it, but this man got over on me, and I'm not easy to get over on," Wilson said.

Rivers owns a flooring store in Beaufort called Hardwoods and All Type Flooring. Neil and Rivers' relationship goes back to earlier this year.

Wilson and a friend bought the home in Beaufort from his friend's parents' estate. A water leak shortly after purchasing it forced a complete renovation.

"The house had to rebuilt from really the studs outward because the house was gutted down to the studs," Wilson said.

Wilson and his friend got quotes from several contractors, but they eventually decided to work with Rivers.

"He seemed like a legitimate businessman, answered all the questions correctly, gave us information," Wilson said. "He taught us some things about insulation and flooring that we didn't know."

Wilson and Rivers agreed on a contract for most of the work inside the home. Wilson said he wrote a check to Rivers for more than $20,000 to cover the cost of the product.

"At first, he was very easy to get because there was money involved. He was very receptive to coming to the house and doing measurements and giving us competitive quotes," Wilson said.

Once the money changed hands, Wilson said the problems started.

"He was very difficult to get in touch with. He was very elusive," Wilson said. "He wouldn't contact us when we needed him. We were behind schedule. There were always little problems that turned into bigger problems as the work didn't progress."

The flooring they ordered never showed up. The work the crews did took longer and longer. Now, out of $25,000, Wilson started to look into Rivers.

"I was downtown with Bob eating lunch, and I said 'just for giggles let's go by the courthouse because something is not right with this guy, because of all the troubles we're having with him,'" Wilson said. "We did that same search. It turned up a laundry list of civil and criminal cases involving Mr. Rivers. Two recent cases seemed identical to what Wilson and his friend were dealing with."

In the first, a couple in Beaufort filed a lawsuit demanding a refund for work not done, poor workmanship on the work they did do, and repairs.

In the lawsuit, the couple said they hired Rivers and his employees to install hardwood flooring in their home. The couple didn't like the job they did, and they said Rivers agreed to fix it for free. They could never get in touch with him until they had a water leak and needed more work done.

The suit says Rivers immediately came out and "quoted us for a price of approximately $2,800 for labor and materials." Rivers apparently told the couple he needed $2,000 for the material up front.

Here is the most shocking claim from the couple: "[We] gave them a check for that sum on December 8, 2015. We never heard from the company again."

A judge agreed with them and ruled against Rivers. He was ordered to repay just over $2,000. He still owes more than $600 to this couple. In the second suit, a woman said she paid Rivers $2,700 for work. When Rivers told her he couldn't do the work, he offered to give her money back. Despite this, the plaintiff said in the lawsuit, "I have not heard from you or your staff in regards to a refund being returned or job being completed."

A judge also ruled in favor of this woman and demanded Rivers to repay another $2,800. He has not paid any of that money.

"When I read them, I realized, this is the same stuff we're going through as homeowners with this contractor. And I proceeded with the South Carolina licensing, labor, and regulation board known as LLR," Wilson said.

The issues here get more disturbing. The South Carolina Labor, Licensing, and Regulation Commission licenses and monitors all contractors in the state. A quick search through their website showed Rivers has never even had a license.

In 2012, the LLR fined him $500 for doing work without a license. Wilson filed a formal complaint this year. It turns out the license Rivers was using was actually in his daughter's name. They fined her $1,000 for doing unlicensed work and aiding and abetting an unlicensed contractor. Again, they fined Woody Rivers $500. None of these fines have been paid.

"We definitely take it seriously. We want the people who are out there working to be the people who are licensed," said Lesia Kudelka, a spokesperson for the South Carolina LLR.

It turns out, the LLR really has no ability to force an unlicensed worker to pay these fines.

"If you have someone who is not licensed by any agency and is working, we obviously can't force them to pay the fine because they do not have a license," Kudelka said.

Rivers denies the accusations. He said he doesn't do this kind of work anymore, and he's declaring bankruptcy. He declined an interview without speaking to his attorney, and he placed the blame on Wilson and the other homeowners who hired him to do work.

Unfortunately for them, this may just be a valuable lesson.

"I've learned and a lot. And it's cost us a lot," Wilson said. "We're putting it together piece by piece."

Wilson's project is back on its feet. They hired new contractors to rebuild the home. His hope in telling his story is that others don't end up in the same situation.

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