'Contractor' charged with not being a licensed contractor

Monroe County State Attorney's Office investigators on Monday arrested an Upper Keys contractor on a worker's compensation fraud charge and on charges he provided services without the proper licenses.

James Neal Miller, 50, faces three felony charges. Investigators say he fraudulently advertised his services as a licensed contractor. 

"Miller has been operating throughout the Keys without a license and more charges are forthcoming," State Attorney Catherine Vogel said in a statement. "If you are working in Monroe County you need to be licensed."

Miller, who posted $15,000 bond Tuesday, said in response to the charges that "there is a lot of gray area."

"I do have a license to do business in Monroe County," he said. Miller declined to comment further.

"I'm trying to get to the bottom of everything else," he said.

State Attorney's Office Chief Investigator Chris Weber said Miller advertised on craigslist and on his business cards that he was licensed. Monroe County Code Enforcement official Lynn Bruno worked with Weber on bringing the charges against Miller.

Bruno's office cited Miller numerous times for working without a license, and he was successfully sued numerous times in civil court for not completing jobs for which he was paid in advance.

Miller's reputation for taking people's cash and not doing the work reportedly became so large that it grabbed the attention of the Florida Keys Contractors Association. 

The trade group's vice president, John Keller, who with his brothers owns Paver Dave's on Summerland Key, said he's done several jobs for which Miller was hired but never finished.

"The homeowner would call me because the guy didn't do what he said he would do," Keller said.

Keller said he's happy investigators arrested Miller, not only because he allegedly ripped off customers up and down the county, but because unlicensed contractors give the public the impression all contractors are suspect.

"It's good to get someone off the street who was taking advantage of people," Keller said.

Virginia Donaldson from Ramrod Key was one of the people who paid Miller for a job he allegedly didn't finish.

"He was so nice, but I'm a single woman and he just saw 'sucker' written on my head," Donaldson said. "He comes off very trusting."

Donaldson said she paid Miller $2,500 in total to install pavers on her property in October 2014. She said other than moving some sand around, Miller never came close to finishing the job.

"He kept making excuses," Donaldson said. She sued and County Judge Wayne Miller ruled in favor of Donaldson in her case against Miller's Lighthouse Landscaping in January but she has yet to be paid. She said she's not surprised.

"I knew I wasn't going to get the money back," she said. "I just wanted to stop him. This guy's been ripping people off and I had to do my part."