13 Investigates: Contractor accused of "ripping off" senior citizens

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LEBANON, Ind. (WTHR) — A group of senior citizens say they've been scammed out of thousands of dollars, and 13 Investigates has learned there may be other victims, too.

"We sure never saw this coming," said Randi Redman, president of the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center. "This is our first time dealing with something like this, and it hit our budget hard."

Lebanon Senior Citizens Club

The not-for-profit organization, which draws seniors from across central Indiana for its weekly bingo events, euchre nights and chili suppers, has been the social epicenter of Boone County's senior community since its doors opened in 1964. As its members are aging, so too is the senior center itself. The building has not been painted in decades.

The organization decided to do something about that in April, hiring a contractor to paint the front of the building.

"He was going to repaint all of this back to the bright color that it used to be, you know, just freshen things up so it looks nice when people come by," Redman said.

The job went to Modern Construction -- the same company that had recently installed a new roof and gutters following a hail storm that damaged the senior center last spring. That project went well, so the senior center agreed to pay for the paint job up front. Almost eight months later, the work has yet to be started, and Redman says the company will not respond to her phone calls or e-mails.

"A few months ago I called and said, 'Look, I'll give you two weeks. All we want is either come up and finish the job or just give us our money back and we'll let it go.' Not a single response," Redman told WTHR, as she pointed to faded paint on the center's front awning.

"He is taking people for money, and he took senior citizens' money. I mean, how much lower can you get? This is their club. That was their money. And I have to sit there and tell them we got scammed for $2,700."

Indiana’s Attorney General suggests not paying more than 1/3 of the total cost in the down payment.

The $2,731.48 paid to Modern Construction represents a significant chunk -- approximately 13% -- of the senior center's $22,000 annual budget. That kind of loss comes as a big blow for an organization that raises funds a dime and a quarter at a time as members come to play euchre and bingo.

"The club gets no federal money or state money, no big donations from anybody," said Paul Dickerson, who's been coming to the senior center for more than 20 years. "So when you're talking about $2,700, that's a lot of money for this place. It would take months of chili suppers and bingo and stuff like that to raise that kind of money."

According to Redman, the loss comes at a particularly difficult time for the senior center, which needs to replace an old furnace.

"I guess that's what happens when you trust people," she said. "We're just one big happy family and it's a happy club. Never once did we think this was going to happen to us. We don't trust anybody now."

"Just disappeared"

Bill Gerst

Bill Gerst has lost trust in Modern Construction, too.

He hired the company to install new siding, gutters and downspouts on a house he recently purchased in Indianapolis. Gerst says he compared estimates from several local contractors and was impressed with the competitive bid he received from Modern Construction.

The company required half of the $17,440 project up front, so Gerst handed over a $8,720 check on April 29 and a project start date was set for early June. He has not seen or heard from the contractor since.

"Nothing. I've tried reaching out to them through Facebook, social media, text messages, tried to visit their office in person. I can't get ahold of them," Gerst told WTHR. "It's like they just disappeared, and they're ripping people off."

Gerst filed a police report with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and has tried warning other homeowners online about his experience with Modern Construction.

"I'd be very careful. They say all the right things and sound like they really know what they're talking about. Just be careful," he said.

Home Improvement Contracts

Written contract required when work exceeds $150

Should include:

  • Price of work
  • Payment schedule
  • Contractor name, address, contact info including email
  • Detailed description of work and materials to be used (including colors, brands, etc)
  • Details about third-party providers
  • Estimated start and end dates
  • Contractor and homeowner signatures

Tracking down the owner

13 Investigates has spent weeks trying to contact Modern Construction, which promotes itself online as "Indy's trusted and reliable roofing experts" specializing in exterior restoration projects.

Phone numbers listed on the company's website and on business cards given to customers are now disconnected. The contractor's office on the east side of Indianapolis sits empty. And nobody answered the door when WTHR visited the home of the company's president, where several Modern Construction yard signs were visible inside a trash can.

Daniel Yattaw

Eventually, 13 Investigates did reach the company president using a different phone number.

Daniel Yattaw denied stealing money from customers. But when WTHR asked him to explain what happened with the projects his company accepted in Lebanon and Indianapolis, Yattaw would not discuss it.

"I don't really think that I want to talk about that. I don't think that's any of your business," he said. Asked if he planned to complete those jobs that Gerst and the senior center had already paid for, Yattaw hung up without answering. He has not returned subsequent phone calls or e-mails requesting comment.

Arrest warrant issued

The complaints against Yattaw do not surprise Glen Potts, a sheriff in southern Indiana. This summer, Potts filed a warrant for Yattaw's arrest in connection with criminal charges for home improvement fraud and theft.

According to a probable cause affidavit, a homeowner in Ohio County hired Yattaw in 2017 to repair hail damage to his home and fence. The homeowner claimed Yattaw did not repair the fence after he received full payment -- instead, offering 11 months of "excuses, apologies, delays, and often no response at all" and refusing to give a refund. When the sheriff called Yattaw in April to investigate, the contractor promised to make the repairs, but that did not happen.

"I finally told him 'I'm giving you a certain amount of time to fix this or I'm getting an arrest warrant for you,'" Potts told WTHR. "He still didn't do the job, so we followed through on our promise. He never did contact me until the warrant was out, and then he called to say he had the money and was willing to pay."

The sheriff reached an agreement with Yattaw.

"It's like they just disappeared, and they're ripping people off."

In exchange for a full refund to the homeowner, the sheriff offered to cancel the arrest warrant and request the prosecutor drop both criminal charges. The prosecutor agreed and Yattaw refunded money for the fence his company never repaired.

The sheriff now wonders if he would have dropped the charges if he had known other Modern Construction customers were facing similar problems.

"If we knew there were other victims, wow, that might have changed things," Potts said. "I don't think he would have done the right thing if we hadn't filed the charges."

Criminal history

It's certainly not the first time Yattaw has been in trouble with the law.

13 Investigates discovered the president of Modern Construction has a lengthy arrest record and criminal convictions for offenses such as dealing narcotics, resisting law enforcement and felony robbery.

Mark Yattaw

His brother, Mark, who is listed as Modern Construction's project manager, also has a criminal past with convictions for battery, possession of marijuana, and several cases of theft.

Their customers say they were unaware of the brothers' criminal behavior prior to signing their contracts.

"Oh my gosh!" Redman said, as 13 Investigates showed her multiple mugshots of Daniel Yattaw. "I think he's a scam artist. I mean, who steals money from a bunch of seniors?"

"It's disturbing," agreed Gerst. "They're taking advantage of a lot of people. They're gaining their confidence, taking their money, and running ... They need to be stopped."

Questions To Ask Before You Hire

  • How many projects like this have you completed in the last year?
  • Will my project require a permit?
  • May I have a list of references?
  • What types of insurance do you carry?
  • Will you be using subcontractors on this project?

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Looking for justice

Both Gerst and the senior center would like their money refunded and have filed police reports.

WTHR has confirmed investigators in Marion County are now looking into the cases to determine if they will recommend charges to the prosecutor's office.

"I'd like to see all the money come back, and I'd like to see him get his butt up here and apologize to all these people," Redman said.

For now, the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center is looking for another contractor to paint its front entry, and trying to raise money for the project the way it knows best -- 25 cents at a time.

If you have had an experience with Modern Construction that you'd like to share with WTHR, please contact 13 Investigates at 317-655-5768.

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