Repairing the damage: After time in jail, Steve Wood is working his way back
Steve Wood hasn’t worked this hard in years.
The owner of Affordable Lawncare and Snow Removal arrived at work Thursday morning around 6:30, and soon after continued the chore from the previous night of splitting logs into a pile for a couple hours.
Eloise Avenue was quiet, save for the wood splitter and the rustle from a cold wind.
It was only a couple months ago when Wood was sentenced to spend six months in jail after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of not carrying workers’ compensation and not paying workers.
His jittery behavior on the witness stand prompted El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury to order a drug test.
“I was very nervous,” he said. “I was a very bad witness for myself.”
Wood passed the test, and others afterward.
It was an unfair accusation, said Wood, who is still feeling the repercussions of being ordered to take a drug test.
“It’s going to take a long time to live that down,” he said. “It was slanderous for her to even say that.”
The native New Yorker educated in hotel and restaurant management was lured to the West Coast for a Harrah’s Lake Tahoe cooking internship in 1989. The work wasn’t enough, so Wood bought a lawnmower for $5 and began cutting grass for any customers he could scrounge up. When winter rolled around, he turned to snow removal and wood delivery.
At its peak, Affordable Lawncare and Snow Removal had around 600 customers, Wood said. The number has dropped to 350 clients but is climbing, he said.
“I think he’s just working really hard and I’m glad he didn’t put his tail between his legs,” said his attorney, Paul Palant.
In April, Wood was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay roughly $8,000 in restitution. He was released early due to good behavior but is on probation for three years.
In his small office on a lot along Eloise Avenue, Wood admitted he lapsed not having workers compensation for his 12 employees for about a year.
As for check kiting, Wood said he isn’t “smart enough” to commit such an act of fraud of taking money from bank accounts that do not have sufficient funds to cover the check. He said he kept multiple bank accounts for business reasons.
“I was wrong,” he said about not carrying workers compensation. “I made a mistake. I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me.”
That “mistake” landed him in jail, where guards rouse inmates for 5:30 a.m. breakfast. Wood said he spent part of his time doing laps, sit-ups and pushups. After some time, he was allowed to work in the kitchen and even washed cruisers for the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, he said.
He was released from custody after serving about half his sentence. He returned to the only thing he had left, his business, where a “Keep Tahoe Blue” sticker changed to “Wood is Good” is seen on an office filing cabinet, and found the phone had been shut off. He also owed a couple thousand dollars to the landlord of the Eloise property.
The phone was the first priority. He started calling customers. Most, he said, wanted to work with him again.
To assist him in his 12 hour days, lights were installed so Wood can work in twilight. He believes it will take a year to pay off the restitution.
His progress is being eyed.
“Hopefully he completes probation successfully because we will be watching him,” said Peter O’Hara, the El Dorado County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Wood.
Some, like Robert Cosmi, manager at Scotty’s Hardware on Lake Tahoe Boulevard, intend to stay away from Wood.
“I won’t do business with him,” Cosmi said.
But others will. Four workers from his previous group of 12 also came back on board. Wood is starting to see a flicker of hope and a lot of wood splitting in front of him.
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