Never pay contractors big chunks of money up front. You hear it all the time. Five families wish they would’ve heard the warning louder.

They say a Licking County jack-of-all trades disappeared after pocketing thousands of dollars of their hard-earned money.

NBC 4 Investigator Tom Sussi recently tracked down the missing contractor, and brought along a few of his elderly victims for the ride.

The families said they paid Keith Williamson more than $9,000 collectively for work he didn’t start or finish. 81-year-old Ida Guilkey told Sussi she wrote Williamson a check for $2,680 to install a new furnace. Guilkey said Williamson cashed the check, and never returned to do the work. That was August of 2016. The senior had to pay another contractor about $2,000 to do the work.

“It kind of broke the budget,” she said.

Another senior, Sheila Tingler, said she paid Williamson $4,400 last September to install new heating and AC units in her home. Tingler said Williamson delivered the units, but never returned to install them. “He will not get a hold of me.” Tingler told Sussi.

Sussi managed to find Williamson on his new job. He’s a maintenance man for a senior living complex in Johnstown. A few days later, Williamson agreed to meet on he lunch break, and discuss the matter. Unbeknownst to Williamson, Sussi brought along Ida Guilkey and Sheila Tingler.

The two women let Williamson have it.

“I just would be ashamed of myself,” Guilkey told Williamson. “You know I had to borrow that money to get that furnace in the first place.”

Williamson said, “I didn’t know how to handle it, I really didn’t.”

Guilkey responded, “Oh you are so…You knew how to take the money so don’t tell me you didn’t know how to handle it.”

71-year-old Tingler told Williamson, “You could have at least called and told me something sweetheart. You ignored me all of these months, all of months.”

Williamson said things came up.

“The weather got bad and everything else and I just didn’t make it out there to do it.”

“My dad passed away, and right before my dad passed away, the guy that I consider my dad passed away,  so it was like bam bam!”

“Someone else who was involved kinda cleaned me out and left and i didn’t know what to do.”

Williamson didn’t deny that he walked off the jobs, and owes the five families money. “No, I [don’t] deny it at all. I owe them money.”

He said he would pay back all five families by the middle of May. Williamson told Sussi he was borrowing the money from a friend and “get everybody paid back and make things right.”

Sussi asked Ida Guilkey if she believed Williamson. She said, “No. It’s all bull—-! The same thing he’s been giving me ever since he did it.”

As of May 20, Williamson hasn’t returned a dime to any of his victims in this investigation.

Before you hire a contractor for any sort of work, keep these things in mind.

  • Get a least three bids from different contractors.
  • Ask for references.
  • Check their names, and business names, with the Better Business Bureau and Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
  • Get a signed contract spelling every detail of the job, and costs.
  • Never pay more than 20 percent up front.