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Following Up: Angela Hodges, Owner of Don’s Tree Experts - Arraignment

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Back in May, we brought you the story of Anglea Hodges and Don’s Tree Experts. Angla Hodges, through her shady tree removal business, had ripped off $1,500 from Diedre Stevens. Diedre contacted TrustDALE, and our investigation found that she had also taken money from over thirty other trusting consumers. And in each case, she failed to deliver her tree removal services. Instead, she made excuse after excuse, before disappearing completely. Now, Angela Hodges finally got her day in court, and we’re bringing you the latest update.

The Scam

Diedre Stevens needed two trees removed from her backyard. After a brief search, Ms. Steven’s contacted Don’s Tree Experts to do the job. The woman who came to Ms. Stevens’ home was Angela Hodges, the owner of Don’s Tree Experts. Anglea wanted to offer her a deal. She quoted Ms. Stevens a price for the job, but then told her that the price would be lower if she paid upfront. So Ms. Stevens handed Ms. Hodges a check for $1,500. And that was the last time the two women saw each other.

Ms. Hodges did contact Ms. Stevens by phone. The call was to tell her that her appointment would have to be postponed. Then came another delay and another. The excuses began to pile up: bad weather, broken equipment, no-show employees, and more. It became clear that Don’s Tree Experts was not on the up-and-up, and Ms. Stevens went online to see what she could learn.

What Ms. Stevens found was an F rating with the Better Business Bureau and 29 complaints for similar behavior. She realized she had been scammed, and that’s when she called TrustDALE.

The Investigation

When we got involved, we began to uncover all sorts of issues with Don’s Tree Experts. It turns out that Angela Hodges and Don’s Tree Experts had a long history of fraudulent behavior. At least one former client had sued her and won a settlement, and several others were currently involved in court proceedings.

The more we learned, the more we wondered: Where were the police? The pattern of behavior demonstrated that this was clearly a criminal enterprise. Don’s Tree Experts wasn’t a tree removal business. In fact, they weren’t even insured to cut down trees. This was a criminal enterprise run with the sole purpose of taking people’s money with no intention of performing a service. So why were all of these cases in the civil courts?

The Ripoff Zone

Angela Hodges, like many of the criminals we uncover, had set her scams squarely within what we call the ripoff zone. The ripoff zone is an amount to money that prosecutors consider too small to warrant criminal charges. When a contractor takes an amount of money within the ripoff zone, the resulting case is always handled as a civil business dispute and not a criminal matter. But the ripoff one can be as high as $50,000. That’s a lot of money that a scammer can steal without grabbing the attention of law enforcement. And with repeat offenders like Angela Hodges, they may steal tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from multiple consumers, all without incurring any criminal charges.

But we were tired of watching this scam going on. Angela Hodges was clearly a criminal, so we contacted the police. Eventually, they did bring criminal charges for theft by taking and other criminal theft charges. The courts scheduled an arraignment, and TrustDALE, along with several of Hodges’ victims, came to court for the hearing.

But Ms. Hodges never showed up. She has the legal right to wave her hearing, and that’s just what she did. We just hope that Sherry Boston, the Dekalb County District Attorney, will see this through as a criminal matter.

We would also like to thank Detective Jackson of the Dekalb County Police for taking an interest in this case and taking it this far.