ST. LOUIS — For many Americans, 2020 was the year they needed a change in their scenery while being stuck at home. The average family spent $8,300 on home improvements during the pandemic. High demand for home updates drove business to one local contractor, whose customers now say he cheated them out of money while lying about his past.
Laura Jackson in Shrewsbury had a vision for her backyard that would turn it into an oasis for her, her dogs, and her plants.
“The deck will be eight by eleven over here…That, I may do myself...because it's taking so long,” Jackson said. “We'll eventually have a doorway cut out here and the dogs can go out into the backyard.”
In June, she hired contractor Mike Shaw to bring part of that vision to life. She found him online and was convinced by what he said to earn her trust.
“His marketing pitch was, I'm a former police chief, and that, that was all I needed,” Jackson recalled.
Jackson was a police officer herself, in Texas and Arizona, before she moved back to St. Louis last year.
“Having been in law enforcement, I trusted him,” she said.
A north county family got the same sales pitch the month before.
“He said that he was a Ferguson police officer, is what he told us,” said Pamela Endres. She and her husband Daniel hired Shaw to build them an extra bedroom.
“He told me that the Michael Brown situation in Ferguson was just too much for him to handle,” Endres remembered.
All of them were told the same lie, because there is no evidence Mike Shaw was ever a police chief and he wasn’t a police officer in Ferguson anywhere near the time Mike Brown was killed in 2014.
“I called Ferguson Police Department and asked about him, and someone in the background yelled—kind of mean, I guess–'He used to work here twenty years ago,'” said Endres.
Current police chief Frank McCall told the I-Team that Mike Shaw worked as an officer in Ferguson in the 1990s. Shaw was also verifiably never a police chief in Ferguson, and the I-Team could find no record of him being a police chief anywhere else.
“I was really angry at him using that as a pitch to deceive people,” said Jackson.
Before she came to the conclusion that Shaw had lied about his past, Jackson paid him $1,800 to get materials for the job. She found some negative reviews of his businesses online before Shaw had done any work on the project or showed Jackson any materials he was supposed to purchase.
When she mentioned those reviews to Shaw, she remembered, “He said they were all mistakes.”
“There was an email address on one of the reviews. And so I emailed, and darned if this woman didn't call me the next day. And she goes, there's a bunch of us,” said Jackson.
According to members of the email group, there are almost a dozen of Shaw’s clients, current and former, swapping stories about projects that went unfinished and deposits that went unrefunded.
Members of the group describe learning from each other about the similarities in their experiences. For one, three members of the group told the I-Team that Shaw told them he was either a police chief somewhere in Missouri, or a police officer in Ferguson during the Mike Brown protests, or the chief of police in Ferguson during the protests.
Another similarity: they say Shaw would have them sign a digital contract on a tablet computer and then fail to provide them with a copy of what they signed.
“We gave him $7,784.50,” said Daniel Endres. “And he just never showed up.”
A long legal history
The I-Team found Mike Shaw has been sued at least a dozen times by suppliers, creditors, and clients for unpaid bills or unfinished work since 2007. Over the years, he’s collected complaints under four different business names: Armor Restorations in 2014, MS General Contracting LLC in 2018, Guardian Contracting LLC in 2019, and most recently, GenCraft Construction LLC in September 2020.
Shaw registered GenCraft Construction LLC with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office just nine days after a judge granted a $3,966 judgment against MS General Contracting.
The judgment found that Shaw was personally liable because “Shaw was the manager of MS and directed how [the plaintiff] was to make out the checks. Shaw directed that checks be made payable to his wife to avoid creditors…Shaw stripped assets from the corporate entity when he had the checks made out to his spouse instead of the corporation, and he lost the protection of the corporate entity.”
Daniel Endres also sued Shaw and Guardian contracting, and the court awarded him a judgment of $5,000 in November.
Court documents and business filings list a St. Charles home as Shaw’s official address. When the I-Team’s PJ Randhawa went to seek answers from Shaw in person, a resident told her that Shaw did not live there.
Shaw did not return calls to the phone number that he gave to the clients that spoke with the I-Team before this story aired.
Friday, we finally reached Shaw by phone. He told the I-Team that both Jackson and the Endres family received partial refunds. He said that COVID-19 impacted his business and that customer cancellations impacted scheduling. He denies that he ever claimed to be Ferguson police chief.
The state steps in
The victims are now asking the Missouri Attorney General’s office for help getting their money back, and they’re warning others to look out for the red flags they missed.
“He is a crook,” said Jackson. “He gave me nothing. No business card. I never got a copy of my contract. Nothing. And you see why I'm mad at myself.”
“I would like to see him go to jail for what he did to people. I really would, because I think he'll never stop,” said Daniel Endres.
The Missouri Attorney General’s office confirmed that they are looking into Mike Shaw.
“We have received complaints and are looking into this contractor,” wrote spokesperson Chris Nuelle. He added that the office has received 11 complaints against Shaw.
In a July press release, the BBB warned customers to watch out for these red flags when hiring a home improvement contractor:
"Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, handshake deals without a contract, and on-site inspections. Not all 'storm chasers' are con artists, but enough are that you should be cautious any time a home contractor contacts you first…especially after a natural disaster."
It added that asking for references and taking the time to do some research should not scare away a legitimate contractor.