SURPRISE, Ariz. — For more than twenty years, JR Pryke of Pride Contracting has worked to build his reputation in the Valley as a go-to, reliable general contractor.
“That's why it said Pride Contracting on the door. Because we want to do it and do it right," Pryke said.
Pryke, who typically works on large commercial projects like fast food restaurants, rarely said no to a project.
“Everybody knows to call JR. He'll get it done," Pryke explained. "Whether he wants to do it or doesn't want to do it, I'm gonna do it.”
That's why Pryke said yes to Jeffrey Ipson, known to him as JD, a man who Pryke said walked into his office in Surprise asking for work.
“How did he present himself?” asked 12News reporter Bianca Buono.
“As the owner," Pryke recalled. "So he told me he owned High Adventure Construction.”
Pryke looked up High Adventure Construction's license through the Registrar of Contractors and saw it was in good standing. The member's name on the license was Adell Portch.
“And Adell was his wife," Pryke said. "He told me that they were married.”
So Pryke agreed to hire him for two jobs - a Taco Bell in Surprise and a Carl's Jr. in Litchfield Park.
“What were his job responsibilities?” Buono asked.
“He had all the grading," Pryke explained. "Get the place level and square basically.”
Pryke paid Ipson, who then hired equipment and material suppliers.
But then, Pryke said he disappeared and Pryke quickly heard complaints from the suppliers Ipson hired, saying they had not been paid.
“I said, 'Well, how much does he owe you?' '$136,000,'" Pryke recalled of one company.
"Then I got in contact from a guy named Mark Cox from Precision Rentals. He owes him $47,500 in rental equipment. I said, 'Mark, I've already paid him for that.'"
Though Pryke said he paid Ipson, as the general contractor, Pryke bears the burden and began to receive lien notices.
“How much money would you say you're out today because of JD Ipson?” Buono asked.
“Over $200,000," Pryke said.
Ipson and Portch did not return 12News' repeated calls, texts, and emails. Someone who claimed to be a High Adventure employee texted 12News stating Portch or Ipson would return our calls but never did.
Since Pryke hired Ipson, High Adventure Construction has had its contractor's license revoked.
Still, Pryke said he is doubtful he will get his money back if he files a lawsuit but said he has bigger concerns.
“I want JD Ipson or Jeffrey Ipson to go to jail," Pryke said. "If we don't stop him, he'll never be stopped.”
12News asked the attorney general's office if they are investigating Ipson. Richie Taylor, the Arizona Attorney General's communications director, provided the following statement:
"The Arizona Attorney General’s office takes complaints of this nature very seriously. We encourage Arizonans who believe they have been the victim of fraud to file a complaint with our office – and we encourage all consumers to conduct diligent research into the companies and individuals with whom they are considering doing business."
List of victims continues to grow
Pryke now joins a long list of Arizonans who say Ipson owes them cash.
Margarita Torres hired Ipson and his then company J & R Construction to build her family's dream house in Glendale back in late 2017.
“You dream of something. You work so hard," Torres said. "You save your money to buy something."
The property Torres bought in Glendale had an existing structure. The assignment was simple. Ipson would demolish that and build a dream house.
Her dream project quickly turned into a nightmare.
“For somebody to just come and take your money and don't even care," Torres said while fighting back tears. “They just left it like this."
As documented in a Registrar of Contractors complaint, Torres paid Ipson nearly $100,000 before he left the project after barely putting up wooden framing. Her house remains in that unfinished state to this day.
“He, from the very inception, had it in his mind to deceive the church”
Pastor Ron Rockwell of Harvest Church in Glendale hired Ipson and High Adventure Excavation to do construction work in his church's parking lot.
Court records show Ipson, again, failed to pay his subcontractors and suppliers and bailed on the project, leaving the church with lien notices.
“We began to get lien notices against the property. People, like suppliers, were telling us that they were not being paid," Rockwell said. "And we as a church have paid all of our bills.”
Rockwell confronted Ipson.
“He would say, 'I've got it. That's my problem. I'm the general contractor. I'm gonna take care of it.' Well, he didn't take care of it," Rockwell said.
The church was out over half a million dollars and counting.
“He didn't just steal from me," Rockwell said. "I was the pastor. But he stole from all the people of this church in this community.”
Within six months of starting the project, Ipson vanished.
“There are some really bad apples that have nothing but harm in their heart," Rockwell said.
Rockwell, along with many others, have sued Ipson, his companies, and Portch and have won.
The 12News I-Team found judges in Arizona have ordered them to pay back over $3.1 million.
“Justice has not been achieved, because we haven't collected," said Kyle Israel, an attorney representing Rockwell and his church. "And JD is out there doing this to other people.”
Adell Portch, Ipson's partner, files for bankruptcy to the tune of $6.1 million
Just this week, Adell Portch, the woman listed on High Adventure Construction's license and who Ipson told multiple customers was his wife, filed for bankruptcy.
That includes the debts High Adventure Construction owes dozens of Arizona companies, totaling $6.1 million.
Ipson is not included in the bankruptcy filing.
Ipson's criminal past dates back over a decade
Ipson's schemes started more than a decade ago.
Utah prison records obtained by the I-Team show Ipson served time for theft, assault, defrauding women he met on social media, and impersonating a police officer.
Arizona Corporation Commission records show Ipson has started another company called Elite Vehicle Outfitters where he claims to specialize in putting lights on police cars.
What to do when hiring a contractor
Here is what a ROC spokesperson recommends customers do before a contractor.
- A consumer can check to see if a contractor is appropriately licensed on the ROC website or they can call the ROC office at 1-877-692-9762.
- If a consumer finds a contractor on the contractor search, it will show license details including if they are currently active and whether there have been any complaints in the last two years.
- When hiring a licensed contractor, always check the license and call the phone number listed on the license to make sure the person you are negotiating with is an authorized representative of the company.
- Consumers should request a list of references and check them as well as obtain written estimates from at least three contractors.
Learn more about other 12News investigations by subscribing to the 12News YouTube channel and watching our I-Team playlist.