Excitement and anger: seniors get relief, wait for justice after contractor debacle

Gary Young volunteered to paint the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center after seeing the 13 Investigates story. (WTHR Staff)

LEBANON, Ind. (WTHR) — A community center for seniors finally has a new coat of paint, more than a year after a contractor took thousands of dollars for the job and disappeared.

“It’s exciting!” said Randi Redman, director of the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center. “It’s actually getting done,” she said laughing, with the sound of paint spraying behind her.

Lebanon Senior Citizens Center before painting. (WTHR Staff)

The laughter is a stark contrast to the anger and frustration that Redman and members of the senior center have been feeling since April 2018. That is when they paid Modern Construction to paint the front awning and siding of their community center. For months, Redman contacted the company’s owner to see when someone would return to start the paint job. She got no response.

“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 last November. "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."

The $2,731.48 paid to Modern Construction represents a significant chunk — approximately 13 percent — of the senior center's $22,000 annual budget. It came 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."

After 13 Investigates reported what happened to the senior center, good Samaritans came forward with donations and offers to finish the paint job that Modern Construction never started.

Gary Young was one of the first to offer his services at no cost to the senior center. Monday morning, the professional painter from Zionsville repainted the front of the building in its original green and white colors, covering faded paint that had welcomed visitors for decades. Young said he was moved to action to help prove a point.

“I like to help out when I can to show people there are honest contractors out there. Most of us are,” he told WTHR. “It makes me mad when I see people get ripped off. That shouldn’t happen.”

More victims

The Lebanon Senior Citizens Center is not alone in claiming it was ripped off by Modern Construction. Several homeowners across Indiana say they, too, paid the company thousands of dollars to complete home improvement projects that were never completed and, in some cases, never started.

Bill Gerst hired Modern Construction to install new siding, gutters and downspouts. (WTHR Staff)

Bill Gerst hired Modern Construction to install new siding, gutters and downspouts on a house he had recently purchased in Indianapolis. The company required half of the $17,440 project up front, so Gerst handed over a $8,720 check on April 29, 2018, 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 last fall. "It's like they just disappeared, and they're ripping people off."

Cindy Poore says the same thing happened to her. She paid Modern Construction $9,400 to install new siding, gutters, gable vents and screens on her Boone County home, but 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."

Waiting for justice

Daniel Yattaw

Each of the former customers filed a police report, and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department began investigating Modern Construction and its owner, Daniel Yattaw, after first learning of allegations exposed by WTHR’s reporting.

13 Investigates has confirmed IMPD spoke to multiple customers and submitted evidence to the Marion County Prosecutor’s office back in December. More than five months later, alleged victims of Modern Construction say they are frustrated as they continue to wait to learn whether the prosecutor plans to file criminal charges.

“The prosecutor’s office hasn’t said a word. I don't know what's going on. I'm getting no information,” Gerst told WTHR. “Clearly it was a case of fraud … if it's not being prosecuted, I'd like to know why not.”

“I don't understand why they can't just go get him and arrest him,” echoed Redman, expressing her own frustration with the prosecutor’s office. “We gave them a lot of evidence and I know others did, too. It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand how somebody can get away with that.”

This week, a spokesman from the Marion County Prosecutor's office told WTHR that his agency’s investigation into Modern Construction and Yattaw are still open. He declined to explain why deputy prosecutors are still reviewing the case months after IMPD wrapped up its investigation.

History of trouble

Modern Construction logo from website.

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

Last summer, a sheriff in southern Indiana filed a warrant for Yattaw’s arrest 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.

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

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

Owner says “I fought my butt off”

13 Investigates spent weeks trying to contact Yattaw to ask about customer allegations against Modern Construction, a company promoted online as "Indy's trusted and reliable roofing experts" specializing in exterior restoration projects.

“I'm not a bad guy. I did not mean to hurt anybody.”

The company’s phones are now disconnected. The contractor's office on the east side of Indianapolis sits empty. Nobody answered the door last fall 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 phone calls. But on his personal Facebook page, Yattaw later posted a lengthy statement, calling WTHR’s reporting “fake news” and insisting he had not cheated the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center out of any money.

“I fought my butt off for them to ensure they were well taken care of and got a fair shake and I did see to that!” he wrote. Yattaw did not explained why he failed to paint the senior center and why he stopped returning phone calls to customers who never received the services they had paid for.

After Yattaw ignored WTHR’s phone calls and e-mails, 13 Investigates caught up with him this spring outside Warren Township Small Claims Court, where the contractor was attending an eviction hearing for failing to pay rent. He told 13 Investigates he has no plans to refund customers’ money because of his personal financial hardships.

“I don’t have any [money]. My company crashed, bud. What do you want me to say?” he said.