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Officers warn residents: Beware of home improvement scams

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As one man wanted in Bartholomew County for home improvement fraud awaits sentencing for similar crimes in Franklin, arrest warrants have been issued for two other people accused of pulling residential repair scams on Columbus-area homeowners.

The three cases demonstrate how widespread home improvement scams have become in the region, said Bartholomew County Deputy Sheriff Maj. Todd Noblitt.

“Folks need to understand many of these (people) are career criminals and this is how they make their living,” Noblitt said. “We will get several calls over the next two or three months where people are scammed. And we know by experience that most of the victims will be elderly.”

In Johnson County late last month, Randy Madewell, 50, of Danbury, Texas, was found guilty of six counts of home-improvement fraud after a three-day jury trial.

Madewell represented himself as owner of Brown County Roofing and Construction. He could receive more than 10 years in jail during sentencing later this month. Madewell also could get more time behind bars later when he’s brought to Columbus.

A bench warrant for Madewell’s arrest was issued June 6 by then-Bartholomew Superior Court I Judge Chris Monroe. The warrant charged him with two counts of home-improvement fraud for separate incidents that both took place Aug. 1, 2011.

In the first count, a woman who owns a house on California Street claims to have given Madewell a check for $5,598 as a down payment for a new roof. However, the woman later told police that Madewell kept the money and never did the work.

State law allows a Class C felony classification for home-improvement fraud when the victim is at least 60 years old.

The second count pertains to a younger Columbus homeowner who said she gave Madewell a check for $4,623, also as a down payment for a new roof. As in the first case, the woman said Madewell never completed the job nor returned the money.

Because the second owner is under 60, the charge of home-improvement fraud is classified only as a Class B misdemeanor.

Noblitt said he doesn’t know when Madewell will be brought to Columbus to face these charges.

Hoblitt warned that a growing number of Bartholomew County residents are falling victim to expensive scams involving construction and home improvement every spring and fall.

“People are usually approached by someone who says they have extra material and can do driveways, roofing, siding or other home repairs cheap,” Noblitt said. “The offer comes from someone who is neither reputable nor local. Most of these guys live out-of-state. And in most cases, it’s not a matter of shoddy work or postponements. These folks will take your money without having any intention of doing the work.”

That appears to be the case involving Jimmy Riley, 45, who is being sought on a Bartholomew County arrest warrant.

Riley, a South Carolina resident, is wanted for four counts of home-improvement fraud and four counts of conversion in connection with incidents that took place in the Columbus area in October.

In all four cases, Riley approached a homeowner, claimed to have leftover asphalt, and offered to do driveway work at a fraction of the cost a reputable contractor would charge, Noblitt said.

Court records state Riley received one check for $2,000, another for $1,800 and two for $1,200.

Riley promised the homeowners he would prepare their driveways and put down the asphalt. However, the work never was done, Noblitt said.

A few weeks ago, an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court for home-improvement fraud was issued out of Bartholomew Superior Court II against an Indianapolis man.

Larry Curtis, 52, accepted an undisclosed amount of insurance money from a Columbus-area resident Dec. 10, 2011, Noblitt said. The homeowner had just received the funds for roof damage sustained during a hailstorm.

These are far from being isolated incidents, Noblitt said. He said there are likely several other local victims who won’t report it because they are too embarrassed.

Residents need to be aware that many con artists carry around some construction equipment or bags of materials to give the appearance they are legitimate contractors, Noblitt said.

“If someone shows up at your house and wants money right away, they probably aren’t a reputable company,” Noblitt said. “Just remember when they tell you they can do it for $2,000 today, they should be able to do it for $2,000 tomorrow after you check them out.”

Noblitt also warned homeowners to never provide personal information, as well as money, to unsolicited contractors.

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