'Gypsy' held for bilking elderly Fairfield woman of $11K in home-repair scam
A man who Fairfield police described as a "gypsy," with a criminal record in Virginia, has been charged with scamming an elderly woman out of $11,000 for home repairs in February.
Acting on a tip that the man, 25-year-old Male Demetro, was working the Stratfield section of town, police Detective Jason Takacs said he used the town's reverse 911 system, the Neighborhood Watch program and interdepartmental bulletins to recruit additional eyes and ears regarding his activities.
Takacs said he would get several calls a day from the Neighborhood Watch program when someone would spot Demetro. "That let me know I was on the right track," Takacs said.
"This guy was going door-to-door trying to get people to sign up for home improvement work or work on their cars," Takacs said. "He pressed (the elderly woman) on the need to get this work done, and said he needed the money for supplies."
The woman, 83, wrote two checks to Demetro, Takacs said, but he never returned to her house to finish the work. "He did some small drywall work and he was supposed to redo a door frame and he ripped up a laminate floor," the detective said. For the door frame header, Takacs said, Demetro simply nailed up a piece of drywall. "The stuff that he did wasn't done to code," he said.
Takacs said the victim described Demetro as persistent and engaging, as well as confident and eager to do the work.
During the course of the investigation, Takacs said investigators visited local residents believed to be related to Demetro, but they denied knowing the suspect. However, police later learned those same people apparently convinced Demetro to turn himself in at police headquarters Tuesday morning, Takacs said.
"There's a major problem with gyspy scammers," said Lt. James Perez, a police spokesman. "Most of the times we're not able to catch these guys, but through the diligent efforts of Detective Takacs we were able to this time."
Demetro, who police said has multiple addresses around the country, was charged with second-degree larceny/exploitation of the elderly, operating without a home improvement license and failure to provide proper cancellation and notice of buyer's rights. He was held on a $50,000 bond, which was lowered by the court to $25,000. He has not yet entered a plea and is scheduled to next appear May 17 in Bridgeport Superior Court.
Perez said with the tough economic times, property owners are looking to save money, but using itinerant laborers could cost even more.
"They use scare tactics," Takacs said. "You need to make sure they're a licensed and insured contractor." That way, he said, if they are licensed with the state and do shoddy work or don't do the work at all, there is a state fund from the owner can claim some compensation.
"No legitimate contractor will insist that you make up your mind on the spot," Takacs said, nor do they solicit work door-to-door. He said anyone who has a question about a contractor's legitimacy can call the Police Department "and we'll look into it."