by: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax Updated:
The son of the woman who’s suing 40 small businesses in Jacksonville over Americans with Disabilities Act violations is getting paid by her lawyer.
This is continuing coverage of an Action News Jax Investigation that exposed what some businesses call a money grab geared toward getting mom-and-pop shops to settle for cash.
Wanda Moore and her attorney “Law Doc” Robert Gibson still won’t answer Action News Jax’s questions.
But now Gibson has his own attorney, Curtis Fallgatter, and he said Moore is the victim, not the businesses she’s suing.
“The plaintiff – in this case, Ms. Moore – gets nothing. No fees whatsoever. So, she does it as a public service,” Fallgatter said.
But Fallgatter confirms that double amputee Wanda Moore’s son, Rumley Moore, is on Robert Gibson’s payroll.
Fallgatter said Rumley Moore gets paid to investigate businesses for ADA compliance, like insufficient handicap parking or improper handrails in bathrooms, and then drives his mother there.
On Tuesday, two employees in Gibson’s office denied to Action News Jax that Rumley Moore worked for Gibson, both saying he’s a “student.”
One employee hung up the phone when Action News Jax asked further questions about Rumley Moore’s connection to Gibson’s office.
On Tuesday, Gibson drove off rather than answer questions about the lawsuit that businesses are now bringing against him.
“Everyone is saying the same thing: She was never here. I never saw her,” said Beatrice Chandler, a manager at Latin Creations, a restaurant Wanda Moore is suing.
“If some complaint inadvertently said she went inside when she really didn’t, I’m not saying with as many complaints as there are, there may not have been a mistake made. But there’s no mistake about the ADA violations,” Fallgatter said.
Action News Jax showed Fallgatter an internal email that shows an investigator for Gibson took photos of alleged violations inside Latin Creations on April 27, weeks before Moore’s lawsuit claims she was at the restaurant.
“The law firms will hire investigators that will go take photographs and they may get out there ahead of time and say, well, here’s a facility that’s not in compliance. Ms. Moore, do you mind driving there, with your son taking you, and verify that?” Fallgatter said.
Case law backs up that strategy of able-bodied investigators tipping off a “tester” like Wanda Moore.
In a statement, attorney Amanda Thoele said in part, “…targeting businesses and then creating the basis for a lawsuit is no different than if Mr. Gibson sent investigators to look for spills in businesses and then sent clients to slip and fall in those spills.”
Thoele and her partner Justin Drach are representing more than a dozen businesses Wanda Moore is suing.
In an interview, one Jacksonville ministry president said the “scheme” goes back nearly a year.
“I was told months ago about this plan,” said Raymond Johnson.
President of Biblical Concepts Ministries Raymond Johnson said Pastor Ken Adkins invited him last year to a free “pastors luncheon” sponsored by Gibson’s law office.
Action News Jax can confirm a connection between Adkins and Gibson because Adkins asked reporter Jenna Bourne to meet him at Gibson’s office for an interview in 2015.
Adkins was convicted of molesting teens two years later.
Johnson said last year’s luncheon was an effort to get pastors to refer their church networks to Gibson’s office; in return, Gibson would donate to those churches and ministries through a nonprofit.
“Ken Adkins told me at that meeting that they were going to be going after small businesses and this was going to generate a lot of money because they were going to sue them over these ADA requirements,” Johnson said.
“You’re here today getting paid a salary for your work. I get paid for my work. None of us work for free,” said Fallgatter in response to Johnson’s story.
Action News Jax asked Fallgatter why Moore is only suing small businesses.
“The reality is the Winn-Dixies of the world, the Publix, most of them have come into compliance,” Fallgatter said.
A source tells us a fraud complaint against Gibson has been filed with the FBI.
Fallgatter calls it “nonsense.”
Fallgatter said ADA lawsuits are the only tool out there to ensure disabled people like Wanda Moore can enjoy the same restaurants and shops everyone else can go to.
At 5: Robert Gibson's lawyer confirms "investigators" sometimes scope out businesses for ADA violations, send "tester" Wanda Moore in later pic.twitter.com/rJt66uzPF5— Jenna Bourne (@jennaANjax) August 11, 2017
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