By Susan Redden
Attorney General Chris Koster on Thursday filed a lawsuit against a California man, alleging he failed to provide construction materials and home repair services that had been paid for by victims of the Joplin tornado.
Koster’s lawsuit alleges homeowners paid Clark Baxter and his company, Sustainable Design, Inc.., tens of thousands of dollars for construction materials to rebuild their homes after the May 2011 tornado. Baxter failed to deliver the materials and stopped working on the projects, according to the lawsuit filed in Jasper County Circuit Court.
The attorney general is seeking an injunction requiring Baxter, 58, Dana Point, Calif., to stop conducting business in Missouri and to provide restitution to homeowners who were damaged by his actions.
Larry and Amy Jump and Megan Snyder said they gave money to Baxter after he came to Joplin and offered to design energy-efficient homes for them to replace properties lost in the tornado. Baxter reportedly said he would serve as general contractor and get materials at a reduced rate. The Jumps reportedly gave him about $54,000 and Snyder gave him about $64,000, which was to pay for building materials. While some of those materials arrived, most never did and the Joplin residents said they could get no response from Baxter by either telephone or email.
The victims had been contacted for the help by the New Orleans-based group Relief Spark that formed after Hurricane Katrina and came to Joplin to help after the tornado. The homes eventually were completed and outfitted by other volunteer groups — Catholic Charities and Samaritan’s Purse — that stepped in to help.
Attempts to reach Snyder and the Jumps were unsuccessful on Thursday. Amy Jump said earlier she had been in contact with the attorney general’s office and was hopeful her family still could recover some of what they gave to Baxter.
“Unfortunately, there are always those who will take advantage of unsuspecting consumers during times of tragedy,” Koster said. “This office will continue to protect consumers by pursuing those who engage in this illegal behavior.”
In addition to seeking restitution for the homeowners, Koster’s lawsuit is asking the court to impose civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and to require Baxter to pay for all court, investigation and prosecution costs.
Jasper County also has a charge against Baxter, a felony bad check charge filed in February alleging he wrote a $6,255 insufficient funds check to Hermann Lumber in Joplin on Oct. 28, 2011.
Baxter was arrested several months ago in Orange County, Calif., on a charge of driving with a suspended license. Dean Dankelson, Jasper County prosecutor, said Baxter also had been arrested on the local charge. He said Baxter would be expected to return to Jasper County or officials would work with California officials to bring him back to the county.
Dankelson and Koster both said their officers were in contact with California authorities concerning Baxter’s case. Dankelson was not available for comment on Thursday.
A spokesman for the Orange County Superior Court in California said Thursday that Baxter had pleaded guilty to the traffic charge.
Since the May 2011 tornado, Koster’s office has taken legal action against five other contractors for illegal behavior related to rebuilding Joplin residents’ homes.