Locals swindled by kitchen contractor
He's convicted, but victims remain unpaid
East Naples resident Mary Griffith was swindled and wants every penny of her $4,658.40 back.
More than six years ago she and her husband contracted Kelly Cardin of Kirkplan Kitchen to remodel their kitchen. They paid for half of the job up-front, but no work was ever done.
The Griffiths are among 31 others in Southwest Florida who are owed a total of more than $200,000 from Cardin who has been convicted of the crime but hasn’t been paying for it.
“I need my money before I die,” said the 81-year-old Mary Griffith.
A Lee County judge found Cardin guilty of scheming to defraud through a plea agreement last February and sentenced him to five years probation, which he is serving in Sarasota County. In July, the judge awarded the Griffiths and the others civil judgments against Cardin, which means the victims can technically get their money back. But because the restitution is not tied to his probation he has not been forced to make any payments to anyone hoping to be repaid.
“There’s no justice for a deal like that,” said Fort Myers resident Thomas Roderick, who lost around $5,000 he paid in advance to Cardin’s business for cabinetry work in his bathroom and kitchen, which he said was never done.
According to Samantha Syoen, spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, restitution wasn’t tied to Cardin’s probation because it would be unlikely he would have made payments. Syoen noted that a judge cannot put someone in jail for not having money.
“Sitting in jail doesn’t get anyone their money back,” Syoen said.
Naples resident Linda Alaimo was surprised to hear Cardin was convicted and that she could possibly collect money through a civil judgment.
“I was never notified,” she said. “What do I do?”
Without restitution tied to his probation “you have no leverage over him,” said Naples attorney Yale Freeman.
In order to try to make Cardin repay, Griffith and the other victims would have to take Cardin to civil court.
“The best thing would be for them to collectively join,” Freeman said.
Griffith is reluctant to hire a lawyer and spend more money seeking payment in the event she is unsuccessful in collecting.
“I can’t afford to do that,” said Griffith, who paid another contractor $7,500 to eventually remodel her kitchen.
Griffith is also dealing with her husband’s battle with dementia. She said the cost of his nursing home care is mounting.
“I want my money back, because then I could use it to pay for him,” said Griffith. “He will be there forever. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it.”
Cardin, who is now doing plumbing work, said he doesn’t know how he could possibly pay people back.
“I understand a lot of people lost money, but I lost the most,” Cardin said. “I’m the No. 1 victim. I lost in the six figures.”
Cardin said he didn’t “scheme to defraud” anyone, rather his company went out of business. Despite entering the plea agreement he said he acted on the advice of his lawyer, noting he had just lost his daughter to cancer.
“I’m not sitting on some island in Tahiti drinking Mai Tais,” he said.
Tips for hiring a contractor
■ Ask to see a DBPR issued license and verify the license online at myfloridalicense.com.
■ Ask for references.
■ Get a written estimate from several licensed contractors.
■ Check with your local building department to see if any permits are required.
■ Get a payment schedule in writing.
Red flags to watch for when hiring a contractor
■ Advertises only a name and number and doesn’t include a DBPR license number.
■ Asks for all or most of the money in advance or uses high-pressure sales tactics.
■ Arrives in an unmarked vehicle or with an out-of-state license plate.
■ Uses a blank or generic invoice, or only offers an oral agreement.
■ Asks you to pull a permit.
Source: Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation
Cardin also owes more than $85,000 in fines to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) stemming from eight unlicensed activity violations. He does not have a license to perform contract work, although a recent plumbing advertisement in a homeowner’s association newsletter in Sarasota lists a license number that doesn’t belong to him.
“It’s an old ad,” said Cardin. “It is wrong.”
The DBPR is investigating Cardin’s advertisement with the license number that actually belongs to G & P Plumbing in Orlando.
Mario Carattini, operations manager at G &P Plumbing, said Cardin has no affiliation with them and didn’t have permission to use the license number.
Licensed contractors have passed a state exam, met financial requirements, and demonstrated the education, expertise and insurance to perform the work, said DBPR spokeswoman Sandi Copes.
The DBPR sees thousands of complaints of unlicensed activity across the state each year and encourages people to ask a contractor to see his or her state issued license. To verify if a contractor is licensed people can also call the department at 850-487-1395 or search the directory online at www.myfloridalicense.com
Alaimo lost more than $14,000 she paid in advance to Cardin’s kitchen business, but admits she should have verified the license.
“I had to turn around and re-mortgage my house,” Alaimo said.
As for those who lost money from doing business with Cardin, there is little consolation in the conviction.
“For what he did, I don’t think probation is strong enough,” said Alaimo.
Of course, “then the taxpayer is paying if he goes to jail,” she said.