He bilked two people out of Irma repair money. His next stop is prison

A Florida Keys judge sentenced a West Palm Beach man to three years in prison for ripping off two senior citizens who paid him thousands of dollars to do post-Hurricane Irma contracting work on their homes, jobs that were never even started.

He also never returned the money.

Monroe County Assistant State Attorneys Kelly Dugan and Jon Byrne said between the two victims, Tison Lee Kennedy, 33, stole $6,448. He pleaded no contest to three counts of grand theft from a person 65 or older and contracting without a license during a state of emergency.

Acting County Circuit Court Judge Ruth Becker sentenced him to the prison time, along with two years of probation, on Thursday at the Marathon courthouse, calling the case, “extremely troubling.”

The crimes happened in February 2018 in the aftermath of September 2017’s Hurricane Irma, while Monroe County was still covered under a state of emergency.

One victim, from Grassy Key, first gave Kennedy $370 in February 2018 to fix her roof and purchase roof sealant and three shingles, State Attorney’s Office spokesman Larry Kahn said.

“Kennedy provided only one container of sealant, and because he didn’t do the work, her ceilings in the living room, master bathroom and master bedroom developed water stains,” he said.

Three days later, the woman gave Kennedy $300 for tree trimming and debris removal, which he never began.

But that didn’t stop her from paying him upfront $355 to pressure wash and stain her deck, and, again, he never did the work.

“He kept stringing her along with excuses,” Kahn said.

In the months after Irma, which hit the Keys hard, especially in Marathon to the Lower Keys, residents desperately needed contractors, but not many were available. Unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors who either did shoddy work, or like Kennedy, no work at all, were all too available.

Weeks after her last payment to Kennedy, the Grassy Key woman sent him a registered letter demanding the $1,025 she paid him. When he didn’t respond, she called the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in April.

The other victim, an 84-year-old woman who met Kennedy through the other victim, ended up paying him $5,423, Kahn said.

She cut him four checks he said were to cover labor and materials to repair parts of her Key Colony Beach home damaged in the Category 4 storm. All the checks were cashed between Feb. 12-14, 2018, Detective William Daniels wrote in his arrest report, and the work was never completed.

Like the other victim, she sent Kennedy a letter demanding her money back. She also spoke to him demanding the money back, according to Daniels’ report, and he responded that he planned to start the work, but his wife was “extremely ill.”

Deputies investigating Kennedy discovered he lacked both Monroe County and state Department of Business and Professional Regulation licenses to do contracting work.

David Goodhue covers the Florida Keys and South Florida for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald. Before joining the Herald, he covered Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.