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Missouri residents fall victim to scams involving building projects

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 | 7:46 p.m. CST; updated 8:58 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 16, 2013

COLUMBIA – Jayne Pearman was looking for someone to build a barn for her peacocks, but instead she was swindled out of almost $4,000 and the peacocks disappeared.

Pearman, who grew up in Columbia and lives south of Kansas City, was looking on Craigslist for someone to build a barn for her 12 peacocks. She found Joshua Whitlock — who was using the name Rick Richards at the time — working for Select Living Designs.

After negotiating a contract with him for about seven months, Whitlock came by her house while she was at work. He told her by phone that he needed a down payment to start building the barn. She left a check at the house that night, and he picked it up the next day, she said.

Then he disappeared.

The attorney general announced recently that Whitlock has been charged with six felonies, as has Kendale Williams, who also is accused of taking part in the scams. There have been three victims, according to a grand jury indictment. The men are charged with three felony counts of stealing by deceit and three felony counts of unlawful merchandising practices, according to a news release from the attorney general's office.

Pearman said the peacocks, who had been staying in a horse barn, grew so big she had to let them range free, without a fence. A few months after Whitlock cashed the check, the peacocks disappeared, she said.

"The coyotes had a nice expensive meal," she said.

Soon after Pearman realized she had been scammed, she posted ads on Craigslist warning people about Whitlock and his business. That's how she got in touch with another victim — Mark Kuhn of Columbia — who says he was scammed out of almost $17,000 for work on a house he was building.

Kuhn had also found Whitlock on Craigslist, still using the name Rick Richards at the time. According to the grand jury indictments of Whitlock and Williams, they promised Kuhn that they would build the foundation, framing and sewer line for a new home and pay subcontractors for the work they had started on the home. They did neither.

Kuhn learned Whitlock's real name when a subcontractor came to his house looking for Whitlock to get the money he was owed. That's when Kuhn realized he had been scammed.

"It's like being punched in the stomach. You're like 'Oh my gosh, I just got screwed,'" he said. "Then we started to do research."

Both Pearman and Kuhn said they went to the Boone County Sheriff's Department with their complaints, but were told what Whitlock and Williams did were breaches of contract, not felonies. Pearman filed a complaint with the attorney general, and an investigator got in touch with her within a month.

The third victim in the indictments — Dannie Franzeksos — could not be reached. 

Whitlock was extradited from Nevada and was in the Boone County Jail on Wednesday, according to the news release. His bond was $50,000, according to the sheriff's department's website. Williams was released from the jail after posting a $30,000 bond, according to the news release.

The men face up to seven years in prison and a $20,000 fine for each of the stealing by deceit felonies and up to four years and a $20,000 fine for each of the unlawful merchandising practices felonies, according to the release.

That makes the maximum penalty 33 years in prison and $120,000 in fines for each of the men.

A July 2011 Better Business Bureau news release urged caution when dealing with Whitlock and Select Living Designs. According to the release, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas residents have said they lost thousands of dollars to him. 

Whitlock has previously pleaded guilty to a felony charge for receiving stolen property, and Williams has pleaded guilty to stealing property valued less than $500, according to Case.net.

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.


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