Suspected "Traveler" Jailed On Felony Elder Abuse Charges
State Agency Fears There are Additional Victims
SACRAMENTO — A California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) investigation prompted the arrest of a contractor who allegedly cheated elderly homeowners in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Joaquin Counties. William Donohue, who is suspected of operating as a "Traveler," or fraudulent home repair contractor, was arrested and booked into the Chandler, Arizona, jail in April, then was released on bail. The CSLB is working to bring Donohue to California to face charges; his extradition hearing in Arizona is scheduled for May 21, 2001.
Donohue holds a painting contractors license in California, and has residences in both states. He is charged with the following felonies: theft or fraud against the elderly, conspiracy to commit a felony, and grand theft.
The CSLB believes that there may be additional victims and urges consumers who suspect they've been harmed by fraudulent contractors to contact the CSLB at www.cslb.ca.gov or at (800) 321-CSLB. Contact CSLB investigator Stuart Rind at (408) 277-9452 to file a complaint against the Donohues.
An arrest warrant has also been issued for Donohue's son, William MacMillan Donohue, who faces charges in California, including theft or fraud against the elderly, conspiracy to commit a felony, grand theft, contracting without a license, and using another person's contractors license with intent to defraud.
"Travelers" generally are organized bands of fraudulent home repair contractors-often members of extended families-who move from town to town scamming consumers. They typically knock on a business or homeowner's door and offer to perform work with materials they claim are left over from another job. After a deal is struck the Travelers perform substandard, useless, or sometimes destructive work. They quickly move on, often before the homeowners know they've been defrauded, and are difficult to find.
William MacMillan Donohue is accused of using his father's contractors license and defrauding elderly consumers in San Jose, South San Francisco, Manteca, and Stockton. The victims' ages range from 75 to 93 years. In one case, he allegedly contacted a 75-year-old widow, and on five separate occasions contracted to apply a roof sealant and make roof repairs for a total cost of $25,700. An industry expert found no evidence that any useful or necessary work was done and discovered that the sprayed-on sealant has no preserving effect and, in fact, will void the manufacturer's product warranty and cause the roof shingles to deteriorate prematurely.
"I am gratified that the CSLB's investigation was instrumental in making sure that this father and son team is prosecuted," said CSLB Registrar Stephen P. Sands.
The CSLB urges consumers to be wary of Travelers and to watch for these "red flags":
- Door-to-door solicitations from individuals related by family
- Unsolicited offers to do painting, roofing or paving work
- Claims of left-over materials
- High pressure or scare tactics
- The use of interchangeable names, such as mixing George Johnson Stewart and John George Johnson
- Reluctance to sign a written contract
- Demand for payment in cash
- Brand new vehicles and out-of-state license plates
- A toll-free telephone number, instead of a local number, as a contact.
The Contractors State License Board, which operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, licenses and regulates the 278,000 building contractors in the state. The CSLB investigates approximately 27,000 complaints against contractors every year.
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