Home improvement scammers swindle Kensington resident

Local,Maryland,Crime,Ben Giles

Two Virginia men are scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday for scamming an elderly Montgomery County man suffering from dementia into paying them thousands of dollars for unnecessary home repairs.

Jonathan Wayland Marshall and Steve Settle, who are both from the Culpeper, Va., area, pleaded guilty in June to charges of exploiting a vulnerable adult and acting as contractors without a proper license.

Marshall first approached Kensington resident Leon Bennett, 89, in December 2010, about repairing a patch of Bennett's roof, according to court records. From December 2010 to March 2011, Marshall charged Bennett $15,650 for a variety of work, from chimney repairs to painting an outdoor staircase leading to Bennett's basement, often leaving the work incomplete or in poor condition.

Prosecutors described Marshal as a "woodchuck," a type of worker that preys on areas with a large population of senior citizens. Woodchucks look for residents in a poor mental state in order to repeatedly come back to a customer claiming more work must be done or requesting another payment, prosecutors wrote.

Bennett thought he had only paid Marshall a few hundred dollars, and was shocked when he was shown records of checks for thousands of dollars written to Marshall, according to court records.

Bennett was suffering from the early stages of dementia at the time, and typically had his son handle arrangements for any work done on the house. When Bennett's credit union noticed a series of payments to Marshall, one for $2,000, they contacted Bennett's family and put a hold on payments to Marshall.

That's when Settle approached Bennett, offering to fix the work Marshall had done. Bennett wrote several more checks for Settle, one for $2,200, according to court documents.

Authorities in the Culpeper area were able to help Montgomery County police identify Settle and another accomplice, Jeff Corbin, who faces similar charges in a trial scheduled to begin in November.

Karen Straughn, a Maryland assistant attorney general, said home improvement schemes targeting the elderly are a common complaint forwarded to the attorney general's office.

"They'll tell you that they have supplies in the area because they're working on another home in the area, and that's why they can do it ... less expensively for you," Straughn said.

Often the work is only half done, or is never completed.

"It's rarely that its shoddy and poor work," Straughn said. "Usually it doesn't get done at all."

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