Flamingo demolition contractor has a felony conviction and a history of work complaints

A 2010 Plain Deal article about the arrest of Jeremiah Johnson is the first result in a Google search for his name. Screenshot

Updated Aug. 17 with comments from Atwater trustee Charlie Harris.

Atwater Township trustees did not conduct any due diligence on the contractor they hired to demolish the Flamingo Motel, one of the trustees admitted Tuesday.

If they had, they might have discovered his lengthy court record related to shoddy work and his felony conviction for stealing over $140,000 from Rivers Garage in Ravenna when he worked there over a decade ago.

“We didn’t do any background on this guy,” Atwater Trustee John Kovacich said. “He was new to the area, and the other trustees decided we would go with him because he’d moved into Atwater. I knew he was a local guy. That’s about all I knew about him.”

The trustees also never advertised for bids to demolish the old Waterloo Road motel, Kovacich said. Instead, they picked Jeremiah Johnson, owner of Fox Contracting and Viking Construction, after he attended a meeting and offered his services.

Trustee Thora Green could not be reached for comment. Trustee Charlie Harris disputed Kovacich’s characterization that he and Green selected Johnson because he was from the area. He added that he and Green knew nothing about Johnson except that his was the lowest of two bids.

Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.

Trustees hired Johnson to tear down the decrepit Waterloo Road motel in July. But Johnson never applied for a permit from the county, and trustees never verified whether the paperwork was in order. The oversight resulted in a failure to test the property for asbestos.

After demolishing part of the structure on July 8 and trucking some of the debris to his property at 51085 Eberly Road, a resident tipped off Randolph trustees and the EPA shut the job down. Atwater Township is now on the hook for a hazardous materials cleanup that could cost over $90,000.

Johnson has amassed a lengthy record in two counties, including a conviction for stealing from the recently shuttered Rivers Garage, according to court records. 

In 2020, Johnson was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated theft, a third-degree felony. Johnson and his wife, Kimberly, who also served two years in prison for complicity, were found guilty of taking $143,527 from 2007 to 2009. Both were employed by Rivers Garage, which closed in 2021.

The court ultimately dismissed several additional charges that he stole tens of thousands more.

Nancy Jones, granddaughter of the late Opal and Halley Rivers Jones, who owned the body shop, said she has no sympathy for the trustees or for Johnson.

“If you’re going to hire somebody at a lower rate, and not check them out… All they had to do is run his name. It would have come up because he’s a thief,” she said.

Indeed, a Plain Dealer article about Johnson’s arrest is the first Google result in a search for “Jeremiah Johnson Portage County.”

To this day, Jones believes the Johnsons were in large part responsible for her grandparents’ decision to close Rivers and for causing significant stress toward the end of their lives, she said.

She also alleges the Johnsons have filed for bankruptcy, at least partially to sidestep the restitution they owe. Court documents filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division show that the Johnsons filed for bankruptcy May 17, 2019, for debts totaling $66,763, half the amount owed.

Vicki Jones, the Jones’s daughter-in-law and a former Rivers employee, said the bankruptcy allowed the Johnsons to repay only $1,675, even though the original restitution order was for the entire $143,527. Before filing for bankruptcy, the Johnsons sent small checks totaling $2,450 from September 2011 to June 2018, Vicki Jones said.

“That’s all we ever got out of them, for all they stole,” she said. “They should still be paying. They should be paying for the rest of their lives.”

Jones partially blames the court system, which she said should not have transformed a criminal matter to a civil one, setting the stage for the bankruptcy filing.

Also in Portage County, default judgments were entered against Johnson for civil cases involving a $5,115 unpaid credit card balance and a $2,334 collection agency debt. Two cases involving Johnson’s failure to fulfill contracts he signed for utility sheds were dismissed after Johnson returned the sheds.

Open civil cases include one from March 2022, when an Atwater resident sued Johnson and Viking Construction for $15,240, alleging Johnson never built a garage for which the resident had paid.

The resident alleges Johnson said he was waiting on permits, but the resident said his own check of the Portage County Building Department revealed Johnson had never applied for one.

Additional open civil cases in Portage County include one filed July 22, 2022, against Fox Contracting by an Akron materials provider which is asking for $106,722. The suit alleges that Johnson’s wife, Kimberly Johnson, who is listed by the Ohio Secretary of State’s office as the company president, personally guaranteed payment on the account.

Johnson’s problems in Summit County include an open civil suit filed May 20, 2022, in which a Tallmadge man alleges Johnson and Viking Construction did a shoddy and incomplete job on an addition to the resident’s home. The resident is suing for breach of contract and other complaints, asking for $50,000.

Johnson also faces a $5,714 suit from the Ohio Department of Taxation and a $1,461 suit from Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Kovacich said the trustees will advertise for bids in the future and will require signed, site-specific contracts specifying all work to be completed.

“We’ve taken down a lot of houses in the last 10, 15 years in Atwater, and never had an issue, so this was an eye-opening experience for myself and the new board members,” he said. “Like anything else, you got to learn from your mistake.”

An expensive mistake. If the trustees can’t find a less expensive qualified contractor to clean up the two debris piles on Waterloo Road in Atwater and on Eberly Road in Randolph Township, they will be on the hook for almost $93,000. 

In an effort to resolve the matter as soon as possible, Kovacich said he has again made phone calls asking for quotes. This time, though, the contractors will be on a state-approved list of qualified contractors, and the EPA will be involved every step of the way.

+ posts

Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.