KAMLOOPS - Families in Kamloops are hoping to raise awareness about a local man they claim is a scamming contractor with a sketchy past.
Jason McDowell and his wife own KJs Whole Home Renovations in Kamloops, a company several locals have hired for their home or commercial construction needs.
After clients reported incomplete and incorrect work done by McDowell, they began to research the contractor and found out about his criminal past.
He pleaded guilty in 2015 to offences including stealing and selling his employer's cattle, racking up a company credit card and stealing thousands of dollars worth of property. His former employer alleged that McDowell starved some of his cattle to cover up his crimes.
Now some Kamloops residents say he has started a new scheme, this time in the construction business.
Felisha Martin and her husband purchased a fixer-upper on the North Shore and took possession of it last month. Martin says she hired Jason McDowell as her contractor after a friend and family member referred him.
Within weeks, Martin says she knew something wasn’t right when McDowell's work started slowing down.
She says this was a far cry from how McDowell started his work for her. Their family’s $90,000 planned renovation was to house a family of Syrian refugees on the top floor, with her family living in a basement suite underneath. She says McDowell was eager and professional when she first communicated with him.
“It was like you hired the contractor of your dreams for a week, maybe two,” Martin says. “He’s texting you constantly… telling you all of these materials he wants to buy, all of these big ideas he has. Then he asks for money and you’re more than willing because you’ve seen everything he’s going to produce for you.”
Martin eventually grew weary about the work being done and started asking for receipts for the material McDowell had purchased. She said she was worried about the deadline for the upstairs family to move in.
“At that point we had given him about $51,000, most of that was for materials which he could show us,” Martin says. “He did have guys working pretty much around the clock for the last two days to get it to a liveable state, but it was a disaster. Not that all of his workers were incompetent, it’s just that he had everyone doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing... because he needed it done.”
Martin says McDowell turned distant once she started questioning when materials would be coming in.
“(I was) just asking him for receipts. Prove that you paid for the windows, prove that you paid for this stuff and that’s when he got really distant, really vacant, started avoiding us, tons of excuses,” Martin says.
She says she checked with the company who McDowell said he ordered the windows from, but they had no record of the order being placed.
Around the time McDowell started work on Martin’s home, he was apparently in the middle of another job. Satish Bhardwaj is a new father who is trying to open up a nail salon in Sahali.
“It was supposed to be finished in January so that we could start on Feb. 1. Because of some problems with the contractor… now it’s not finished,” he says.
According to the City of Kamloops business licence directory, there is no licenced business in Kamloops under the name of “KJs Whole Home Renovations” or “Jason’s Painting and Landscaping” although both companies have running websites.
KJs Whole Home Renovations posted an ad on Kijiji in mid-February offering custom-built kitchens.
McDowell was also given jail time in 2015 for defrauding two different employers in Cache Creek and Alberta. The Alberta rancher who employed McDowell said he asked him to take care of the ranch while he went away.
Walter Suntjens told iNFOnews.ca in 2015 that McDowell ended up stealing from his ranch and starving his cattle, along with stealing and selling other livestock.
"I just have to warn people if (McDowell) works for you, he will steal from you. He’s just a natural born thief," Suntjens said.
Martin says she did research on McDowell after being allegedly scammed by him and was shocked at what she found.
"Some of his fraudulent schemes have actually caused harm," she says. "He killed animals to try to cover up a crime. I just don’t know the extent of which he’ll go to to hide his mess."
Bhardwaj says he was referred by a friend who McDowell was doing a job for. One thing that drew both Bhardwaj and Martin in was the affordable quotes McDowell had given them.
“When you save money, you try and go with that person,” Bhardwaj says. “When somebody references, and that person is your friend, you feel like it’s fine.”
Bhardwaj says he would have been better off if McDowell had never started work on his future nail salon.
“This is a commercial place so everything has to be inspected,” he says. “If (McDowell) would have completed everything, I would have never gotten my licence to operate this business because everything was done wrong.”
Bhardwaj says an inspector did come in to check out the work that had already been done by McDowell, but it failed the inspection.
Bhardwaj says he lost close to $30,000 due to the incorrect work done at his location, which is nearly his complete construction budget for the project.
“I never saw him after Feb. 3 or 4… when he started (Felisha’s) job. Before that he was good because I think this was the only job he was doing,” Bhardwaj says. “We were supposed to open on Feb. 1. It was Feb. 15 when he said he would be done and he wasn’t done by then.”
Bhardwaj says he and his wife spoke to a lawyer, who guided them in legally ending their relationship with McDowell.
“He never called, he never texted, he never apologized. You know, I don’t expect an apology from a conman because that’s what their profession is,” Bhardwaj says. “The thing I love about this country is people are really nice, right? But people like Jason put a wrong impression out... That person should be taken care of so that he doesn’t make other people’s lives a mess like this.”
Bhardwaj says he went to his salon Monday morning, March 13, and found a note taped on the door, allegedly written by an employee of McDowell’s. The note says “Whole Home Renos, Jason. KJ, Pay up! You owe me $940.00 for work I performed here! I will not give up! Darcy.”
Martin claims other employees have come to her saying they weren't paid for the work they did.
"I had three people show up on my house (March 7) threatening to put liens on my house because he hadn’t paid them. That’s when I found out and I started unraveling," she says.
Bhardwaj and Martin have since connected with other clients of McDowell’s who allege he performed either incomplete or incorrect work on their homes or commercial buildings. One of those people is Trevor Dhesa.
He owns a motel in Valleyview, which can only be identified by its legal licence number 0758219 B.C. Ltd.
Dhesa says McDowell began working on the motel around the end of October or beginning of November, but things began taking a turn around the third week of December.
“He didn’t do it in a timely manner,” Dhesa says. “The two-month work is still going.”
Dhesa contracted McDowell to renovate the motel rooms, but he says the work was “incomplete and incorrect.”
iNFOnews.ca went into the motel rooms that McDowell had worked on. Paint streaks were on the windows, holes were cut into the ceiling to fix plumbing problems and tile was placed incorrectly on the walls.
Dhesa now has another tradesman working on the rooms to fix the work McDowell did, along with finishing the job. Dhesa estimates the motel lost about $30,000 to McDowell.
A GoFundMe page has been started for the Martin family to mitigate some of the financial losses they suffered.
McDowell did not respond to calls or emails before publication deadline.
More than anything, Bhardwaj and Martin say they want to raise awareness around McDowell's company and hopefully save more families money in the long run.
"My husband and I said, 'we’re all in to try and expose this guy and try to make sure this doesn’t happen other people,'" Martin says. "We’ve lost a lot here and it’s just so heartbreaking. I just don’t want to watch him get away with this in another city, to another community, to another family."
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