Chapel Hill Couple Federally Charged in Elder Fraud Home Repair Scheme
Preyed Upon Older Homeowners in Durham, Orange, and Chatham Counties
Greensboro, N.C. – Matthew G.T. Martin, United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, announced today that two individuals have been charged with conspiracy to defraud in a home repair scheme.
On April 30, 2020, JORGE ALBERTO GARCIA, also known as “Roberto Garcia” and “Alberto Garcia” (hereinafter “GARCIA”), age 38, and HELEN [NMN] SMITH-FLORES, also known as “Helen Smith” and “Helen Smith Flores” (hereinafter “SMITH-FLORES”), age 40, both of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, were charged in a criminal Complaint with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, that is, to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises.
“The allegations in the Complaint lay bare a depraved scheme: two individuals working in concert to take money from elderly and vulnerable people,” said U.S. Attorney Martin. “The defendants allegedly presented themselves as helpers and the victims trusted them, only to be left poorer, and still in need of repairs to the place where they should feel most secure--their homes. We should honor our elders, not deceive and defraud them. We applaud the law enforcement agencies whose diligent work and collaboration resulted in these charges.”
The Complaint alleges that from on or about September 2015 to and including April 2020, GARCIA and SMITH-FLORES approached elderly, retired individuals at their private residences in Durham, Orange, and Chatham Counties, offering home improvement services using the business names “J&J Home Improvement” and “JH Home Improvements, Inc.” GARCIA—who never had a state general contractor’s license—would offer to perform home improvement projects and these elderly individuals would, in turn, pay him prior to the completion of any construction work via personal checks, credit cards, or withdrawals from investment accounts. GARCIA would often direct that these individuals leave the “to” line of the check blank (which would later be completed in the name of SMITH-FLORES), or issue the check directly to SMITH-FLORES who, in turn, deposited the checks into personal accounts in her name or that of her business, La Cacerola. SMITH-FLORES would then withdraw the money in cash and/or issue a cashier’s check made out to GARCIA. GARCIA and SMITH-FLORES would also take the checks to the elderly individual’s bank or their bank and cash the checks without depositing the funds into their bank accounts.
GARCIA would develop personal relationships with these elderly individuals, calling them “Momma” and “Poppa,” and encourage them to solicit their neighbors to engage his services in home improvement projects for their residences, as well. GARCIA also solicited loans from some of the elderly individuals for whom he had already contracted to perform home improvement projects, separate and apart from those projects.
However, GARCIA would not complete the contracted home improvement projects, nor would he repay any loans in full. When the contracting individual, a concerned relative of that person, or a local law enforcement officer confronted GARCIA about the payments, GARCIA and SMITH-FLORES would respond in the following ways: a) GARCIA would promise to send workers to complete the project but never fully complete the project; b) GARCIA or SMITH-FLORES would return a small percentage of the monies paid for the project; and/or c) GARCIA or SMITH-FLORES would write a personal check to the contracting individual that would be returned by the issuing bank as lacking sufficient funds.
Review of records from bank accounts known to be controlled by GARCIA and/or SMITH-FLORES for the time period spanning February 2016 through November 2019 indicates that, as a result of the above-described scheme to defraud, GARCIA and SMITH-FLORES obtained a total of approximately $2,200,000 from more than fifty victims.
“It is difficult to fathom how Garcia and his wife could target, prey upon, and systematically rip off elderly victims without a second thought. Now, they can think long and hard about the hefty federal charges they face. The FBI will continue to try and identify as many victims as possible of their home improvement scheme,” said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina.
The FBI is seeking victims who may have been defrauded by GARCIA and SMITH-FLORES. If you believe you are a victim of or have been affected by this scheme, please go to NCHIVictims@fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI and make a report.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum term of 20 years imprisonment, a term of supervised release of not more than 3 years, a fine not to exceed $250,000.00, and a mandatory special assessment of $100.00.
GARCIA is currently in state custody serving a 90 day sentence for criminal contempt of a Consent Order signed May 16, 2017, which enjoined him from the practice of general contracting in North Carolina.
SMITH-FLORES was served with a summons and the Complaint in this matter today. She is scheduled to make an initial appearance in court in Greensboro on May 7, 2020, at 2:30 p.m.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in coordination with the Durham Police Department, Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, Chapel Hill Police Department, Carrboro Police Department, Cary Police Department, and others. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney JoAnna G. McFadden.