ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — At the Escambia County Contractor Competency Board meeting on Wednesday, the board voted to make Matthew Banks of Banks Construction pay restitutions to three victims in the amount of $80,419.
The board also voted unanimously to make Banks pay for violations to several Florida statutes in the amount of $52,000 and permanently revoked his license to contract in Escambia County.
Banks has filed for bankruptcy and is looking at $4.7 million in restitutions, according to several victims.
“This is a Ponzi scheme that he and Jesse LaCoste have put together,” said victim David Bryan. “LaCoste is on the insurance side of it and Banks is on the residential side of it. It’s all the same. Everything you have heard is the same. They take some money and there was never an intention to work. The only work that he does is a little bit of demo, then overcharges for that.”
When Bryan looks back at this whole ordeal, he said there was a lack of character from Banks.
“I was going to say incompetence, but it might as well be impotence,” said Bryan. “There have been 11 no shows, since being in contract with Matt. Two plus months of a four by three-foot hole left in the foundation. Seven months of exposed insulation in the ceiling. Plumbing work, not permitted, in the wrong location. Partial framing of a knee wall and an abbreviated shower wall. Wrong location, wrong size, wrong material and neither wall was ever secured to the foundation itself. The design that they had done was completely wrong. We have had two other contractors come and look and everything has to be redone, except for the partial demo.”
Bryan said he is looking for justice in the long run.
“That is going to be up to the Department of Agriculture,” said Bryan. “We all realize that we are going to lose everything that we have put in. I have a friend of mine that has already given Banks $164,000. That is just one story. The community is full of them. They are nearly triple digits. I think it was apparent to a lot of us where this was headed very early on. I think the process could be streamlined in some way. Scammers will always scam. People will always follow Matt’s lead and scam and it’s going to happen in Escambia County. It’s happening now in Escambia County. When you begin to see it, let’s find a way to put it on hold and say, ‘What can we begin to do, to slow this down and put an end to it.’ Escambia County citizens deserve some type of action taken when it is brought forth.”
For the next victim awarded restitution, Johnnie Harris, he said there needs to be a way for homeowners to see if there are complaints against a certain contractor before they hire them.
“Something needs to be done to help out the consumers,” said Harris. “So we don’t get railroaded in the end. This shouldn’t have been taken to this extreme.”
The next victim, Jennifer Grant, has received threats from Banks on social media for calling him out about taking advantage of her.
In the post, Banks said:
“Do something then! Come see me ..I’m easy to find! Screen shot that. Keep messing with my family and I’ll educate you! YOU have issues with Banks Construction llc then attack the business. Im done being threatened when you don’t know [expletive]. Professionalism out the window.. you want to involve my family. I’ll make yours miss you. This is my warning. Please understand it. Lol all you want. . Do your research in depth before you threaten someone like me.. im not the karen of jeffrey you argue with online. Address me or my family In public and I will react that’s a guarantee. Have a good day.”
Melissa Pino spoke on behalf of Grant regarding the threat, saying that it is hard for the gentlemen on the board to understand what it’s like being a woman dealing with this issue.
“In times past, you guys haven’t been all that nice to women who have come before you,” said Pino. “Being a long-time advocate of the county, there is a ‘Is she crazy’ routine that you have to deal with. Then, there is the fear you have to deal with of harm. That’s not to say that men can’t fear the same thing, but when Ms. Grant gets up, I hope that you will make maximum allowance for her being understandably, very nervous and scared to be here today.”
Board member Brian Bell spoke up during the meeting, saying that he has never disrespected anybody that has come before the board.
Grant said she paid a 50 percent deposit of $53,000 and within an hour Banks cashed the check and she hasn’t seen him since.
“As of right now, listed on his bankruptcy, it has $4.7 million from victims,” said Grant. “It will go up because not all of the victims are listed yet. The Victim’s Recovery Fund that everybody keeps talking about, it is capped at $500,000 per contractor. Do the math. $4.7 million is owed to victims. We are going after a recovery fund that is only worth $500,000. It is worthless to us.”
Pino, who said she has been an advocate for three years on the contractor issue, said that Banks and LaCoste are newcomers on the scene and that a particular member of the board is a disgrace.
“I started this back when you all were hearing Teri Nocks’ cases, which I very well understand should not have come before this board,” said Pino. “Unfortunately, one of the members on this board is a disgrace. If you don’t believe in permits, licensing and regulations here and you can’t keep your butt in a chair while women cry because their lives have been destroyed, again, you guys can’t regulate each other, but this is the moment for new leadership.”
Bell said back in the day he had been taken advantage of by a contractor and has a lot of empathy towards the victims, which is why he is here. He said that now, these cases are being sent to the State Attorney’s office.
“I asked that question at a previous meeting, if we were sending them to the State Attorney’s office, because it needs to go that route,” said Bell. “Law enforcement needs to step in at this point. Being a victim of this myself back in the day, I have a lot of empathy for these victims.”
At the end of the meeting, the board voted to keep John Matthews as chair of the CCB and Brian Bell as vicechair.