Polk County Sheriff's Office undercover detectives, with the assistance of officers from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Florida Department of Financial Services, and the Florida Highway Patrol, working with prosecutors from the State Attorney's Office for the 10th Judicial Circuit, conducted a proactive investigation targeting fraudulent businesses attempting to conduct unlicensed and uninsured construction related work in Polk County.
The operation began on Wednesday, January 11, 2012. Five suspects were arrested and charged with crimes ranging from Exploitation of the Elderly (Felony 3 Degree,) Burglary (Felony 3 Degree,) and Grand Theft (Felony 3 Degree,) to Workers Compensation Fraud (Felony 2 Degree,) Fraudulent Certificate of Insurance (Felony 3 Degree,) and Failure to Secure Insurance (Felony 3 Degree.) All of the suspects arrested are members of a nomadic community frequently referred to as Travelers.
"These scam artists prey on unsuspecting victims," said Sheriff Grady Judd. "They target the elderly because they are more trusting; thus making them easier targets for quick scams. And by the time the crime has been committed, the suspect is long gone, the victim has been swindled out of their money and must hire legitimate businesses to fix' work which wasn't needed in the first place, or was done at substandard levels."
Travelers, often called gypsies, live in closely guarded societies and share a common preference for nomadic lifestyles. They solicit victims for business, most often construction related work such as roof repairs and asphalt work, then give the victim unqualified, uninsured and untruthful estimates for home improvements and repairs.
On Wednesday, January 11th, a senior citizen (undercover) working with PCSO detectives posed as an "elderly woman" who was concerned about the structure of her roof. Prior to the investigation a credible roofing contractor inspected the roof and found it structurally sound and not in need of repair. Several "Traveler" businesses were contacted for roof estimates.
An inspection was set up for 9:30 a.m. by Rafferty Roofing. Two suspects, Bartholomew and Patrick Rafferty arrived and gave false information to the undercover about her roof needing repair. They offered to place silicone in several areas where roof shingles, they claimed, were missing (there were no shingles missing when the home was inspected prior to the operation). The Raffertys also claimed the areas around her vent pipes needed to be sealed. After spending thirteen minutes with the undercover senior citizen and conducting the inspection they offered to fix the roof for $975.00.
When asked to provide proof of liability insurance Bartholomew retrieved a fraudulent insurance document and presented it to the undercover senior citizen. Both suspects were arrested and charged with Exploitation of the elderly, Burglary, Grand Theft, Worker's compensation fraud out-of-state contractor, Worker's compensation fraud by presentation of false certification of insurance, Worker's compensation fraud by failing to secure worker's compensation insurance.
During the investigation it was revealed the Raffertys were visiting Florida from Colorado. Patrick Rafferty also gave an address in Maryland. The suspects' vehicle was equipped with $2,500.00 worth of tools. These tools were seized for civil forfeiture.
Detectives then contacted several similar out-of-state businesses that have traveled to Florida and were staying in the Northeast section of Polk County. During the calls, many of the Travelers acknowledged knowing the Rafferys were going to the undercover location to give an estimate. It was clear the Traveler/gypsies detectives were contacting were all related and/or had close relationships and were aware of each other's activities.
A company called A. Parker Contracting was also contacted by detectives. The suspect, identified as Charles, advised he and his partners were in Leesburg working, but could give an estimate at 4:00 pm.
At approximately 4:45 pm, suspects Alexander Parker and Charles Evans arrived at the house. Parker made contact with the "elderly woman" and indicated the roof appeared to be in good shape. Both suspects then walked around the perimeter of the property. They came back to the undercover senior citizen and said it appeared there may be some damage but they would have to take a closer look. Parker told the "elderly woman" he would apply silicone to several areas of the roof for $600.00. He brought a contract in for the undercover senior citizen to sign and also showed her fraudulent insurance paperwork upon request.
The suspects then went on the roof and conducted an inspection. Parker came back inside and told the "elderly woman" that there were numerous nails "popping up" and the areas around the vents were dry-rotted. Even though there are no trees above the roof, he told the undercover senior citizen it appeared something fell from the sky on the roof causing damage to a large area.
He told the undercover senior citizen that he would have to figure a price for the needed work. Both suspects were then arrested and charged with Exploitation of the elderly, Burglary, Grand Theft, Worker's compensation fraud out-of-state contractor, and Worker's compensation fraud by failing to secure worker's compensation insurance.
The investigation revealed the two arrested were from Delaware. Parker also possessed a driver's license from North Dakota. Evans was in possession of $761.00. The truck was equipped with $1,000.00 worth of tools. The currency, tools, and 2007 Chevy truck were seized.
All of the suspects claimed to have just arrived in Florida. Patrick Rafferty said he just arrived but has been traveling to Florida for "seasonal work" for 14 years. None of the suspects provided detailed information on their businesses or where they were living while in Florida.
Detectives obtained a warrant for 17-year-old Joseph Croughin after he solicited an elderly man in Lake Alfred about doing unneeded roof work at his residence. Croughin dumped tar on the roof and poured rocks on top of it. He charged the victim $600.00 for this work. He then told the victim he needed more money so he could buy more materials. The victim became suspicious and called law enforcement. During the investigation, Croughin was located living in the KAO campground on Frontage Road near Interstate 4 and Highway 27. Croughin was arrested on Thursday, January 12, 2012.
During the arrest, Croughin's parents were present. Croughin's father repeatedly told his son not to cooperate with detectives.
An unidentified white female also present at the time of Croghin's arrest, was belligerent with detectives. Detectives explained that the PCSO will not tolerate groups of people coming into Polk County and taking advantage of our elderly citizens. Without being told what type of scam had occurred, she advised she worked for a legitimate paving company in Virginia. The unidentified woman on scene claimed to be associated with the FBI, CIA and a Senator in Virginia. She also referenced the arrests detectives made on the four suspects the day before. At no time had the previous arrests been discussed with those present during Croughin's arrest. This was a further indication of the close relationships between all of the people involved in this culture.
"Scam artists like these will stop at nothing to get your hard-earned cash. They use intimidation, fear and confusing conversation to coerce victims out of their money," said Sheriff Judd. "Don't be fooled by their sales pitch or their professional appearances. This investigation should send a clear message - we will not tolerate these so called travelers to gyp our citizens, and if they try, they will travel to jail."
All suspects are being held on $20,000.00 bond per count.
Bartholomew Rafferty W/M, 3/21/78, 1635 Pinon Glen Circle, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Charges: Exploitation of the elderly - Burglary - Grand Theft - Worker's Compensation Fraud Out-Of-State Contractor - Worker's Compensation Fraud by Presentation of False Certification of Insurance - Worker's Compensation Fraud by Failing to Secure Worker's Compensation Insurance.
Patrick Rafferty W/M, 12/22/82, 17812 Farragut Way, Hagerstown, Maryland. Charges: Exploitation of the elderly - Burglary - Grand Theft - Worker's Compensation Fraud Out-Of-State Contractor - Worker's Compensation Fraud by Presentation of False Certification of Insurance - Worker's Compensation Fraud by Failing to Secure Worker's Compensation Insurance.
Alexander Parker W/M, 9/19/86, 402 Ocean Wind Road, Bear, Delaware. Charges: Exploitation of the elderly - Burglary - Grand Theft - Worker's Compensation Fraud Out-Of-State Contractor - Worker's Compensation Fraud by Failing to Secure Worker's Compensation Insurance.
Charles Evans W/M, 4/15/81, 509 Southwind Road, Fairwinds, Deleware. Charges: Exploitation of the elderly - Burglary - Grand Theft - Worker's Compensation Fraud Out-Of-State Contractor - Worker's Compensation Fraud by Failing to Secure Worker's Compensation Insurance.
Joseph Benedic Croughin, W/M, 2/28/1994, 223 Shawnee Valley Drive, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Charges: 2 Counts Burglary - Grand Theft.
Below are a several tips to remember when dealing with those who solicit "home improvement" business door-to-door:
* Request a written estimate on all home improvement offers and compare the prices. Con artists are notorious for charging a higher price for inferior materials and unnecessary repairs. Without a written estimate, victims get trapped into paying extremely high total costs when the job is "finished."
* Do not be rushed into a "special bargain" - often described as a "one-time" offer. An example is that a Traveler will claim he has excess asphalt, tar, etc. from another job and he will sell it "cheap." Remember, if it sounds too good to be true - it probably is.
* Do not do any business with any "contractor" with an out-of-state vehicle license.
* Any legitimate Polk County business soliciting work will have a Business Tax Receipt from the Polk County Tax Collector, a soliciting permit from the Clerk of the Courts, and a Florida Contractor's License. If they do not have all of these, do not do business with them.
* Be careful responding to any roadside sign offering workthis tactic is often used by Travelers. Out-of-state telephone numbers are also used in many of these scams.
* Call trusted family or friends to help you verify soliciting "contractors."
* Do not pay for anything until all services are completed to your satisfaction.
* Do not give out credit card numbers over the phone.
* Your best option is not to do business with any travelling soliciting contractorcontact local trusted construction companies and ask for references for honest local contractors.
* Report all suspicious offers or solicitations to the Sheriff's Office immediately at 863.298.6200.
In addition to the five Travelers arrested, detectives arrested the following suspects on unrelated charges while they were making contacts in the northeast Polk County area:
Jeffery D. West W/M, 11/2/60, 11735 N. Marjory Avenue, Tampa. Charges: Resisting Arrest and Petit Theft.
David West W/M, 10/25/85, 11735 N. Marjory Avenue, Tampa. Charges: Petit Theft
Julius Rollins B/M, 4/6/56, 1420 S. Florida Avenue, Lakeland. Charges: FTA-Stalking
Consumers can verify that an individual or business is licensed by going to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's website at www.myfloridalicense.com. For additional information on the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and their assistance in this investigation, please contact the DBPR's Office Communications, 1940 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, 850.922.8981.
For further information you may contact Brad Copley, Assistant State Attorney, 10th Judicial Circuit, Jerry Hill, State Attorney (863-534-4855 or 863-534-4995.)