Roofing "Traveler" Held to Answer
ALAMEDA — Suspected "Traveler" William Donohue was held to answer on 88 counts of fraud, elder abuse, conspiracy, and residential burglary March 25 in Alameda's Hayward Superior Court, following a five-week preliminary hearing. Donohue and a companion allegedly targeted elderly persons in eight Northern California counties and defrauded them of more than $200,000 between December 1999 and December 2000. The case is being prosecuted by the California Attorney General's Office, and is the result of a Contractor's State License Board investigation. The maximum sentence in this case is in excess of 54 years. Following the hearing, Donohue's bail was ordered increased to $500,000 and he was remanded into custody.
In one case, Donohue and his companion contacted a 75-year-old widow, and on five separate occasions contracted to apply a roof sealant and make roof repairs for a total cost of $25,700. An industry expert found no evidence that any useful or necessary work was done and discovered that the sprayed-on sealant has no preserving effect and, in fact, will void the manufacturer's product warranty and cause the roof shingles to deteriorate prematurely. Deputy Attorney General Keith Lyon called the material "snake oil, with absolutely no beneficial effects."
Donohue and his companion allegedly victimized seniors in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Stanislaus counties during a one-year period. The CSLB believes that there may be additional victims and urges consumers who suspect they've been harmed by fraudulent contractors to contact the CSLB at www.cslb.ca.gov or CSLB Investigator Stuart Rind at (408) 277-9452.
Donohue and his companion operate in the manner of transient criminals known as "Travelers." "Travelers" generally are organized bands of fraudulent home repair contractors - often members of extended families-who move from town to town scamming consumers. They typically knock on a homeowner's door and offer to perform work with materials they claim are left over from another job. After a deal is struck, the "Travelers" perform substandard, useless, or sometimes destructive work. They quickly move on, often before the homeowners know they've been defrauded, and are difficult to find.
"Sadly, this case illustrates how scam artists prey on elderly homeowners. Before hiring or paying a contractor, I urge all homeowners to take their time before making a decision and to check out the contractor with the CSLB before any money changes hands," said Steve Sands, the Contractors State License Board Registrar.
The CSLB warns elderly homeowners to check with a friend or relative before signing a contract and to be wary of solicitors who create a false sense of urgency and pressure them into agreeing to home improvement work.
Senior citizens should follow these tips when hiring a contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the pocket license
- Check the contractor's license on the CSLB's web site or by calling (800) 321-CSLB
- Be wary of door-to-door solicitations
- Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision about hiring a contractor
- Get at least three bids and check references
- Get a written contract
- Ask a friend or relative to review the contract before signing
- Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment
- Don't pay cash and don't let payments get ahead of the work
- Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor.
Consumers can get free information on-line at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling (800) 321-CSLB.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 278,000 contractors and investigates 25,000 complaints against contractors annually.
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