The Case of the Disappearing Contractor
By: Kathy Sweeney
This story begins with several phone calls from a very persistent viewer named Gary Mixon. Gary felt he had a good story for me to investigate, and he wasn't going to take no for an answer. After talking to Gary and his wife Carol, I had to agree with them. Not only did they have all the paperwork to show they hired a contractor, paid him, and didn't get the job done.......their situation led to a felony stealing charge filed against the man they hired.
The Mixons decided back in January to add to their home in Kennett. They already had a screened-in porch, so they decided to have it turned into an actual room complete with electricity and heat. They also wanted a cedar privacy fence in their backyard.
On a drive home from Poplar Bluff, they passed a truck marked "All Phase Construction" with a cell phone painted on the side. Carol called the number, and the driver identified himself as Andy Johnston. Johnston agreed to drive out to their home and give them an estimate. His bid came in lowest, and the Mixons hired him in February. They signed a contract for $13,700 and paid him $3425. Handwritten notes on the contract show they made several other payments, with Andy Johnston's signature marked next to each payment.
Gary Mixon invited me out to his home in mid-October to see the work Andy Johnston did. I walked into a porch area littered with wood and tools. Wood beams still stood exposed on each wall, with electrical boxes left dangling from wires. The gable roof the Mixons wanted was not finished. I don't know much about construction work, but I know enough to see when a job's not finished, and this one didn't even come close.
Now, this is typically the time for a family like the Mixons to head to civil court in hopes of getting a judgment against the man they paid for a job they feel was not completed. But they decided to take a different approach. They took all their paperwork, along with pictures of their porch and fence, to Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Sokoloff. Sokoloff tells me the most difficult aspect of a case like this is proving intent. Even if Andy Johnston got paid for work he didn't do, did he really intend to steal the Mixon's money? That's where Gary's persistence paid off again.
Gary spent quite a bit of time on the Missouri courts website. This is actually a favorite site of mine. It shows all the criminal and civil cases filed in the state of Missouri over the past several years.
Gary looked up all he could on Andy Johnston and turned that over to prosecutor Sokoloff. After Gary called me, I did the same. I found numerous civil judgments against Johnston, including one from Ida Pogue of Ellington. After exchanging several phone calls with Ida, I traveled to her home in Ellington to learn about her business dealings with Andy Johnston.
Ida lives on a beautiful piece of property just north of town. She and her husband retired there and began raising goats. After he passed away, she kept going on her own. She told me the improvements she wanted to her goat barn were actually her husband's idea, and she wanted to make sure she finished the work they started together. Andy Johnston came recommended by a family friend and on March 13, 2006, she signed a contract with him. Ida says she paid him close to $3000 and he came out just three times.
I walked among Ida and her goats to see what Andy Johnston had accomplished. All Ida got on either side of her goat barn was a wooden frame. She went to court and got a civil judgment against him for $2557. She says to this day, she hasn't received a penny. I heard the same story from the Abel family of Pacific, Missouri. They hired Andy Johnston 10 years ago and their judgment against him tops $126,000. (After KFVS began running promotions for my investigative report on Johston, I found three more victims and two more civil judgments, these out of Butler county).
OK, now we're back to Kennett and back to the criminal charge Steve Sokoloff filed against Andy Johnston. Johnston faces a single felony count of stealing by deceit. There's a warrant issued for his arrest with the ability to extradite him within 500 miles. The Mixons want to know why Johnston's not behind bars, but Sokoloff has a simple answer. He points out authorities have better things to do than track down an alleged crooked contractor. The last time anyone saw Andy Johnston, he was living up in Leadwood, Missouri. I talked to police up there and they say they are now keeping an eye out for him.
So, where is Andy Johnston? I don't know for sure, but I do know he's still in business. After leaving him a message on his cell phone (which is answers by identifying himself as "Andy with All Phase Construction"), he called me back just hours before my report aired. He would not tell me where he is, but he's happy to say he's done nothing wrong. Johnston claims he had no idea there's a warrant out for his arrest, and he needed to call Mr. Sokoloff and "clear that up".
I asked Johnston about each customer I tracked down, and he had a story for each case. Basically, he claims he did the work he was paid for, and often got fired for some reason before he finished the job. He says he also did not know about some of the civil judgements against him. (He knows now.) He was very friendly, even sounding a little confused at what was going on. He took Mr. Sokoloff's number and called him after we talked. (Sokoloff confirmed that to me in a phone call.) Now, it's up to Andy Johnston to turn himself in, or run the risk of getting arrested.
There is no real "customer beware" lesson to learn from this story, since everyone who hired Johnston seemed to do the right thing. He came recommended to them. They signed a contract with him. They documented all their contacts with him. In each case, they claim he simply took their money, then took off. Gary Mixon recommends you get on Casenet and check to see if you're hiring someone with a criminal history, or a list of civil judgments against them.
In the meantime, take another look at my story. Have you ever done business with Andy Johnston? If so, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.