Tell Mel Article: Residents Gain Wisdom The Hard Way

News-Press 5/01/08

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Marlene Campbell and her neighbors say a contractor and his son took their money but never completed the work. Campbell kept a drinking glass he used in case the police pursue the case and want his fingerprints. But that’s about all she has. John Wisdom didn’t have a contractor’s license, didn’t give out business cards, invoices or receipts. He gave them bogus phone numbers and only took payments in cash. (Melanie Payne/news-press.com)

Residents gain wisdom the hard way.

A father-and-son handyman team took money from neighbors in a south Fort Myers condominium complex, did half the work and then disappeared.

Three weeks ago John Wisdom and his son, also named John Wisdom, came knocking on doors at the Verandas at Cross Creek offering to replace old lanai and patio screens for about $200.

The Wisdoms were hired by owners in at least 12 of the 34 units. They finished five of the jobs, got the money for all the rest, stripped off the screens and haven't been seen since.

When the Wisdoms failed to return, neighbors compared notes. They had given everyone a different telephone number, and they were all bogus.

No one had seen a business card or license. Only one had a receipt - handwritten and undated on plain paper.

Kelly Wilcox's 83-year-old father lives in the complex and lost $400 to the elder Wisdom - $200 for his screens and $200 he paid for his snowbird neighbor's screens.

"We were all too trusting," Wilcox said, explaining why they hired Wisdom for the job.

"Too stupid, I'd say," Paul Campbell chimed in.

Marlene and Paul Campbell, 70 and 74 respectively, suffered the most from Wisdom's work. He removed the hurricane shutter tracks to replace the screens and the shutters fell down. The Campbells had to pay more than $1,600 to repair the damage and reinstall the tracks.

Helen Liebl, a 77-year-old widow, paid $375 for her screening job. Wisdom didn't finish it, nor did he perform the other services promised, such as pressure cleaning her walk and making minor repairs.

"The last time I saw him he said, 'I'll be back Friday,' " Liebl said. "That's been three weeks."

Marlene Campbell tried to gather information to track down the two John Wisdoms.

She's pretty sure he didn't use an alias, she said, because the younger man had "WISDOM" tattooed across his back.

And she got the license plate number I8827Q from the blue Mercury Marquis he drove.

The father wears a ponytail and sings in karaoke bars around town, she said. And he once lived in Queens, New York.

Campbell also kept a drinking glass the elder Wisdom used so she'd have his fingerprints. But she said when they called the Lee County Sheriff's Office they were told it was a civil matter and they should take Wisdom to small claims court.

Too bad Campbell didn't use her investigative skills before paying him.

There were reasons to steer clear of Wisdom:

  • He went door-to-door looking for work.
  • He didn't have a business license or any document with a name, address or phone number.
  • He didn't give written estimates or receipts.
  • And, he required payment up front in cash - no checks or credit cards.

I can't find the Wisdoms. Public records searches turn up no phone numbers for the two and I can't find they have a business license.

And this is how good Wisdom is at fleecing people: Wilcox wondered if she had jumped the gun by calling me. Maybe he had gotten sick or been in an accident and that's why he hadn't come back to finish the jobs, she said.

A more likely scenario is the Wisdoms have taken this scam on the road, running it in another neighborhood of older folks.

So be on the look out for them. They may use the name Wisdom but hiring them is just not very smart.

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