When 18-year-old Andrew Moats went for his first job interview in June 2015, he was hired on the spot for $10 an hour. The Boise High School senior was thrilled at the chance to earn some money before he headed off Washington State University in the fall.
Moats’ duties at Boise’s Powerhouse Event Center included setting up and taking down tables, chairs and equipment for events. When he was hired, he said, he was not asked to sign any documents. Since it was his first job, he did not know what was legally required.
Three weeks later, Moats quit, realizing he had been hoodwinked. Jeff Jerome, the former operator of the event center, owed him $762.
“It was a terrible first job experience,” said Moats.
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From a high school student to a well-known restaurateur, dozens of people say they were defrauded by Jerome. More than half a dozen people contacted the Statesman with their stories after reading an article about a state lawsuit against the former operator. Seventeen Idaho investors said in the lawsuit that they were bilked by Jerome after he persuaded them to invest in Powerhouse.
The March 6 lawsuit by the Idaho Department of Finance said Jerome raised $238,500 through “sham businesses” and spent most of it to repay prior investors and to pay for “personal desires and expenses,” including his home-mortgage payments. Jerome denied the allegations and requested dismissal of the lawsuit March 30.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office has received complaints showing that Jerome owed money to about 50 people or businesses, including a 75-year-old man who never got paid for doing marketing for the center in 2012.
And the Idaho Department of Labor said it received 11 claims totaling $10,493 for unpaid wages from several of Jerome’s Powerhouse companies between 2011 and 2016.
‘Hard lesson in life for my son to to learn’
Moats was not one of those claimants, but he may soon be.
After a couple of weeks went by without getting a paycheck for his work, Moats and his father, Bill, paid Powerhouse Event Center operator Jeff Jerome a visit.
“I asked him why my son wasn’t getting paid,” Bill Moats told the Statesman. He said Jerome told him his son would get paid once he signs a contract, something Jerome forgot to have him do. “So my son signed the contract right there,” Moats said. Jerome said Andrew would get a check via mail in a few days.
“So we left,” said the father. “I didn’t have the heart to tell my son he wouldn’t be getting his check in the mail. In the first minute I met Jerome, I could tell he was a carnival huckster.”
When the check did not arrive, Andrew Moats confronted Jerome. Jerome told him he had mailed the check but it had the wrong zip code, so he should expect it in the next day or two.
Moats said he realized then that he was not going to be paid and quit.
After quitting Powerhouse, he got a job with a landscaping company for the rest of the summer — a job with proper paperwork and regular paychecks.
But his father still wanted to his son to get a paycheck from his first job. “I was getting more and more frustrated,” Moats said. “I didn’t want to drop this thing. How can this guy get away with this?”
Moats, who had copies of his son’s time sheets, had a lawyer send a letter to Jerome demanding that Andrew be paid the wages owed. Jerome did not respond.
After talking to the lawyer, the Moatses learned they could take Jerome to small claims court. If a defendant does not respond to the complaint, the court typically awards a default judgment, meaning the plaintiff should get what is owed. But it is up to the plaintiff to collect the money, not the court.
“And we knew that would not happen,” said the dad.
So the father and son gave up.
“I was ecstatic when I opened the Statesman [April 1] and read the headline,” Bill Moats said. “Although the $762 owed my son is small change compared to what these poor guys in the article got fleeced for by this con man, to an 18-year-old kid it is a huge amount.
“It was a hard lesson in life for my son to to learn. ... I would still like to see some type of justice served with this guy.”
Moats, who will turn 20 on April 16, is studying business and finance at Washington State University. Last week, after consulting with the Idaho Department of Labor and learning that there is a two-year statute of limitations on unpaid wages, he said he would file a complaint against Jerome.
Not the only one
Felecia Wood, of Boise, said she was not paid, either.
Shortly after she started working for Jerome in February 2016, Jerome put Wood, who is studying criminal justice and biology at Boise State University, in charge of finding businesses to sponsor mixed-martial arts events at the Powerhouse.
She decided to contact previous sponsors first to find out if they were interested in continuing sponsorship. After a couple of calls, she told the Statesman, she learned that Jerome, “had taken their money and never held up his end of the deal. Not only did I get yelled and cussed out, but I learned of his unethical practices.”
When she wasn’t paid, Wood started asking about her paychecks. Still she did not get paid. Wood said she walked off the job after three weeks, “due to excuses after excuses when it came to being paid for my hours worked.”
She finally did receive a check, but it bounced. She was finally able to cash it more than a month later.
“Jeff Jerome still owes me almost $1,000 in wages and commissions,” she said. “I doubt that I will ever get my money back.”
Wood’s problems did not end there. A few days before she started work for Jerome, she had booked the event center for the 10-year reunion of her Capital High School Class of 2006 in June.
Her class had held its prom at the Powerhouse, and reunion planners thought it would be memorable to hold the reunion there too. Because of her experience, Wood had misgivings, but she hoped for the best.
“He canceled our event two days prior to the event date,” citing problems with his liquor license, she said. “I had a gut feeling that the reason he canceled the event was actually because I was pressuring him to get the money that he owed me from the beginning of the year.”
She and fellow organizers rebooked the reunion at the Revolution Concert House and Event Center in Garden City.
“It is a shame that the Powerhouse is out of business until further notice,” she said. “I would like to see Jeff Jerome behind bars so that he is unable to hurt anybody else moving forward.”
Of the 11 unpaid-wage complaints the state received, nine have been resolved or closed, leaving a balance to be paid of $5,390, said Department of Labor spokeswoman Georgia Smith.
Here are four more accounts from people who worked for or did business with Jerome:
1. We catered but were stiffed for $5,700
Brian McGill, Boise, owns Willowcreek Grill/RAW Sushi and is a former co-owner of The Dish. McGill and his business partner, Jared Couch, agreed to do catering for the Powerhouse in summer 2015.
After catering several events and spending hours planning menus for several weddings and other events, McGill told Jerome they would not provide any more catering until Jerome paid his $5,700 bill.
“He gave us a check and it did not clear,” he said.
McGill started doing research on Jerome, including looking up small claims cases filed against him. McGill realized he was not going to get his money.
“I just walked away,” he said.
2. We were overcharged for a wedding
Lorrie Lowe, of Lava Hot Springs in southeastern Idaho, said she and her husband rented the Powerhouse in June 2013 for their daughter’s August 2014 wedding. They used a credit card to pay for it.
“Big mistake,” Lowe told the Statesman via email. “We were double charged and were told it was a ‘mistake.’ Long story short, we had to hire a Boise lawyer (who had sued the Powerhouse previously and won) and finally received our money back in March 2015.”
3. We canceled but got no refund
Lynn Bradescu, a Boise real estate agent, said a new nonprofit she founded, 100 Ada (100+ People Who Care About Ada County), booked the Powerhouse last year to hold a fundraiser. The group gave Jerome $300 to reserve the center.
“The event was held on September 20, but not at the Powerhouse,” Bradescu said in an email. “We heard horrible stories, so we canceled and went to Crane Creek Country Club. So glad we did. Of course, Jerome refused to give us our money back and that $300 was a lot of money to us ... it is really a travesty that he is going to get away with so much.”
4. We stayed late to bake cupcakes
Amaru Confections, of Boise, is among those who filed complaints with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. The Statesman obtained 156 pages of complaints and related documents from the office through a public records request.
Powerhouse contacted Amaru just hours before an event saying it needed 80 cupcakes that day, Amaru said. Though the bakery was closed when Powerhouse called, Amaru obliged and provided the cupcakes.
After repeated requests from Amaru for payment, Powerhouse finally paid its $269.98 invoice two months later. The check was drawn on a closed account and bounced. Amaru complained to the state in February 2016.
Jerome did not respond to the Statesman’s request to comment on these accounts.