13 Investigates: Police expand investigation of contractor accused of scamming seniors

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) -- Detectives in Indianapolis and Lebanon tell WTHR they are investigating more cases of alleged theft involving Modern Construction.

Lebanon Senior Citizens Club

The expanded investigation comes one week after 13 Investigates reported multiple incidents in which customers say the home improvement contractor accepted thousands of dollars for work that it never completed.

One of those cases involves the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center, which paid Modern Construction more than $2,700 to paint the front of its community center. The organization says Modern Construction never returned to do the job and the company's owner stopped returning e-mails and phone calls.

"He took senior citizens' money. I mean, how much lower can you get?" said Randi Redman, director of the senior center. "This is our first time dealing with something like this and it hit our budget hard."

“I'd like to see them have to pay everything back.”

The $2,731.48 paid to Modern Construction represents a significant chunk -- approximately 13 percent -- of the senior center's $22,000 annual budget. That kind of loss comes as a big blow for a not-for-profit organization that receives no federal or state funding, instead raising money a dime and a quarter at a time as members come to play euchre and bingo.

The senior center is not alone.

Bill Gerst wrote an $8,720 check to Modern Construction last spring for new siding on his Indianapolis home. The company never returned to begin the project.

"They ripped me off," he told WTHR. "They're gaining people's confidence, taking their money and running."

More angry customers

Since WTHR first reported allegations against Modern Construction, other frustrated customers have come forward to share similar stories.

More than a year after Cindy Poore paid Modern Construction $9,400 to install new siding, gutters, gable vents and screens on her Boone County home, she is still waiting for that work to begin.

"I paid for materials and haven't heard from them since," Poore said. "Never heard another word from them. I've tried calling, e-mailing, texting, sent certified letters. No response at all. And that's not money I can make up because I'm a single parent."

Modern Construction received tens of thousands of dollars to re-side Howard and Beth Groves' house in Indianapolis, and the couple says the company did much of the work. But after the contractor received an insurance payment worth more than $11,000 to complete repairs inside the house, the Groves say Modern Construction stopped working on the project.

"Never came back to finish the job," said Howard Groves, a former Modern Construction employee who is now trying to get a refund. "They kept saying they were going to be here, and then they just wouldn't show up."

Each of the former customers has filed a police report. The Lebanon Police Department confirms it is now working with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police to investigate the cases, which could be presented to the Marion County prosecutor's office later this month.

"I'd like to see them have to pay everything back. I'd definitely like to see justice done," said Poore.

History of trouble

It's not the first time Modern Construction has caught the attention of law enforcement for failing to perform work.

This summer, a sheriff in southern Indiana filed a warrant for the arrest of Modern Construction president Daniel Yattaw and filed criminal charges against him 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.

The sheriff and prosecutor in Ohio County dropped the charges and arrest warrant against Yattaw only after he gave the homeowner a full refund.

Mark Yattaw

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

His brothers, Mark and Chad, who are listed as Modern Construction project managers, also have criminal pasts.

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?"

Caught off guard

Just hours after 13 Investigates reported that the senior center had paid $2,700 for a paint job it never received, Redman says her phone start ringing -- and it hasn't stopped since.

“The outpouring of the community, it just totally caught us off guard.”

Responding to the WTHR investigation, four separate professional contractors offered to paint the senior center free of charge. A local Boy Scouts troop also offered to paint the building and others have extended offers, too.

"It's been so touching. I get emotional just thinking about it," Redman said, trying to hold back tears. "One lady called and said 'I'll get a crew together and we'll get volunteers to come down and help you.' She said they didn't just do this to the club and the seniors, she said they did that to the whole community."

The director of the Lebanon Senior Center has been receiving other calls, emails and letters of support -- many from people she's never met before -- expressing support for the senior center.

"The outpouring of the community, it just totally caught us off guard. I was not expecting that at all. We never knew that we meant that much to the community," Redman said.

Companies donating money

The community gave its senior center another surprise this week, when Redman received three large donations from Lebanon businesses. The owners of Strawmyer & Drury Mortuary, Cowan Drugs and Parkside Pharmacy, and Mimi's Market each made sizable contributions to the senior center to reimburse the organization for the money it lost to Modern Construction.

"We saw the story and couldn't believe what happened, so I got on the phone and called a few friends to see what we could do," said Matt Drury, owner of Strawmyer & Drury Mortuary. We love our community and the seniors are a big part of that. We want them to know we care about them."

"It has just meant a world to us that the community wants to help us," Redman said, adding that several seniors were moved to tears during last Monday's bingo night when they heard of the community support.

"I'm not a bad guy"

Daniel Yattow

13 Investigates spent weeks trying to contact Modern Construction owner Daniel Yattaw to discuss allegations of fraud.

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 Yattaw's home, where several Modern Construction yard signs were visible inside a trash can.

Eventually, 13 Investigates did reach Yattaw using a different phone number. He denied stealing money from customers, but would not discuss claims that he had failed to complete projects for which he had already been paid.

"I don't really think that I want to talk about that. I don't think that's any of your business," he said before abruptly hanging up.

Yattaw later changed his mind, calling investigative reporter Bob Segall after he watched WTHR's investigation.

"I'm not a bad guy. I did not mean to hurt anybody," he said. "I never wanted it to end like this. The way things played out, there was nothing I could do."

The contractor said "things got tough" while operating his business, adding "it's very important you understand what happened." At Yattaw's request, WTHR scheduled a follow-up phone call for the following day to hear more about Modern Construction and its struggles.

The contractor did not answer his phone at the scheduled time and has not responded to any of WTHR's subsequent attempts to contact him.

"If he felt so bad, then why did he do it in the first place?" wonders Redman. "If you don't want to hurt people like that then you don't do what he did to us. He's not going to get any sympathy from us."

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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