"Traveler" Contractors Pay $101,000 to 229 Victims
SAN JOSE — A Contractors State License Board (CSLB) investigation has led to the payment of $101,000 in restitution to elderly victims by a family of "Traveler" contractors after their arrest and conviction on charges of felony conspiracy and theft from elders. Alexander Stewart McDonald, along with Peter McDonald Sr., Peter McDonald Jr., and Hugh Keith Jr., pulled home improvement scams on hundreds of elderly Bay Area homeowners for years.
In addition to restitution payments to 229 victims, their sentencing in Santa Clara Superior Court includes repayment of $16,000 in CSLB investigative costs, five years formal probation and county jail time for each of the defendants, and the immediate revocation of Alexander Stewart McDonald's contractors license.
The CSLB and the San Jose Police Department arrested the four last year when they were caught in the act of defrauding a 78-year-old San Jose widow. The arrest prompted the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office to file criminal charges.
The elderly woman paid them $525 for 30 minutes of work on her roof. The four sprayed a useless oil on the roof, replaced a few shingles, and spray-painted vent and valley flashings. An industry expert testified that no legitimate work was performed, and actions taken by the contractors further damaged the roof, which now needs to be completely replaced.
Maps found in their vehicle pointed to hundreds of other potential victims, 14 who had already paid the contractors for similar "work."
The CSLB warns that fraudulent home repair contractors - known as "Travelers" - continue to move through California. In fact, the CSLB receives scores of complaints every year from homeowners deceived by Travelers who use similar illegal tactics. They knock on a homeowner's door, claim to have roofing, painting or paving materials left over from jobs just completed in the neighborhood, and offer to repair or seal the roof or driveway or paint the house at a reduced price. Travelers typically perform substandard, useless, or sometimes destructive work. Once homeowners realize no work has been done and that they have been scammed, the Travelers are gone and difficult to find.
Travelers tend to target older residential neighborhoods or mobile home parks and look for elderly homeowner victims. A common Traveler routine is to sneak a wet sponge or spray bottle into the victim's home, secretly apply water to the ceiling, and then claim it is wet from a leaky roof. Many victims do not know they have been defrauded until family members examine their bank records and discover that funds have been spent.
The CSLB urges consumers to be aware that Travelers continue to work in California and to watch for these "red flags:"
- Door-to-door solicitations from individuals related by family
- An offer to do painting, roofing or paving repairs
- An offer to apply "sealers" to roofs, walls, concrete or asphalt
- A claim they have left-over materials at a cheap price
- High pressure or scare tactics
- The use of invertible names such as mixing Charles Johnston Stewart and Charles Stewart Johnston
- A reluctance to give an up-front price or a written contract in advance of work being performed
- A demand for cash
- Brand new vehicles, truck-mounted spray machines, and out-of-state license plates
- Toll-free telephone numbers instead of local numbers
- Post office boxes, private mailboxes, and suites instead of local business addresses.
The CSLB, which operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, licenses 278,000 contractors in California and investigates 25,000 complaints against licensed and unlicensed contractors every year.
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