HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — Investigators say a husband and wife insurance team stole more than $150,000 from a Henry County fire victim and her quadriplegic son.
The investigators credit Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland with gathering key evidence in the case.
That evidence shows that instead of going to pay to rebuild the house, the insurance money went to feed the lifestyles of the insurance adjuster and the contractor.
They were partners in marriage and, investigators say, partners in crime.
"I was scared to death,” Nikki Redmond said about the night in January 2017 when a chimney fire tore through her McDonough house.
Redmond and her disabled son Jamie escaped unharmed but shaken and vulnerable.
"I was devastated. I wasn't my normal self. We had lost literally everything," Redmond told Strickland.
Within a day, a woman showed up telling Redmond she was a public insurance adjuster and knew how to help.
Adjusters work on behalf of victims like Redmond to coordinate and negotiate insurance payouts with the insurance company.
"She trusted somebody when she was in a weak spot," Jamie Redmond, Nikki's son, said.
Redmond hired public insurance adjuster JoAnn Hardin to help negotiate the claims process.
"She said 'Nikki, I understand exactly what you are going through and we will help you,’" Redmond recalled.
Fast forward more than a year later -- Strickland was there with state insurance investigators and local police as they arrested JoAnn Hardin.
"Do you have any apologies to make to Mrs. Redmond?" Strickland asked.
"Um, please, go away," Hardin told Strickland as investigators put her in handcuffs.
Also put in handcuffs -- her husband, Jonathan Hardin.
"I've got your spreadsheet right here. This is their main piece of evidence against you for stealing $150,000," Strickland said to Jonathan Hardin as he was being taken into custody.
"It's a construction job. I don't know how to explain," Jonathan Hardin said.
"You're not a contractor," Strickland said.
"No sir," Jonathan Hardin said.
Hardin has no contractor license, but his own records allegedly show him bilking Redmond's insurance money.
There's a $25,000 administrative fee and another $4,400 to get the building permit, which Redmond says bears her forged signature.
"I'm sick. I feel stupid. I've been deceived and taken advantage of and I feel violated. Everything you can think of," Redmond said.
It cost $28,798 to demolish the rest of the burned-up house. That is more than twice what the insurance company had authorized. Yet piles of debris still remain.
"They clearly didn't do the work that they said they were going to do, and they submitted fraudulent invoices to Travelers and we're arresting them for it," investigator Jay Florence told Strickland.
One of those invoices was to winterize the pool for $4,500.
But Strickland saw a poorly installed ripped tarp over the pool weighted down with cinder blocks and flower pots.
"The Redmonds were victimized twice. Once by fire and once by the Hardins," Florence said.
The insurance fraud squad figures the Hardins skimmed more than $155,000 of Redmond's insurance proceeds.
"I don't know what kind of person could do this to somebody in our situation," Jamie Redmond said.
Strickland learned where some of the money went -- $50,000 in cash withdrawals, $30,000 in food, restaurants and hotels, and $2,977 in a single night at the Tattletale's strip club.
"Have you defrauded the bankruptcy court by not telling the bankruptcy trustee about your windfall in this job?" Strickland asked Jonathan Hardin.
"I'm not sure how that works," Jonathan Hardin replied.
Jonathan Hardin is currently going through his third bankruptcy.
Joann Hardin has a separate bankruptcy underway.
"My anticipation of getting my money back from them is very low at this point," Nikki Redmond said.
The land she had built her house on has been part of her family for generations. Whether it'll ever be home again is uncertain.
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