Repairman arrested, charged with fraud
By JENNIFER LIBERTO
BROOKSVILLE -- Mary Fowler may be an octogenarian, but she's spunky and loud and never considered herself the type to be taken advantage of.
She has a way of looking someone in the eye and knowing.
But her instincts failed when Joseph Patrick Reed came knocking in June, looking for odd jobs, she said.
The big, blue-eyed 38-year-old assured her he was a licensed contractor and, better yet, a neighbor.
The summer rains had worn through part of the Fowlers' roof, creating a drippy mess with each storm. Reed agreed to patch it for $1,810, paid upfront, she said.
Three months later, the Fowlers are still waiting for their leak to be plugged.
Reed was arrested Wednesday morning at his home, 16155 Fort Meyers St. in Brooksville. He was charged with grand theft and organized fraud, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office reported. He was also cited with working without a contractor's license or a building permit, building inspectors said.
Reed cashed the Fowlers' checks and failed to finish the work, deputies said.
"You'd think he was honest as the day was long," said Mary Fowler, 83, who has lived in her Brooksville home with her husband, Wendall, 85, since 1980. "After six weeks, I just wondered if he was ever going to come back."
The Sheriff's Office and the county building department are calling the arrest the first of many such team efforts to prosecute contractors who swindle elderly residents.
Mary Fowler wrote Reed a check for $765 on June 13, the day he first approached her at home, investigators said. He needed the money to purchase supplies, he told her. Fowler later found a receipt mixed in with the supplies for $239.31, according to reports.
On June 14, she wrote him a second check for $1,045 to pay for his labor. A few days later, she wrote him a third check for $42, which he said he needed to repair his chainsaw. The third, $42 check was cashed at ABC Discount Beverage, the owner of which said Reed spent $20 of the money in the store, according to reports.
The Fowlers called Reed several times asking him to finish the work during the next month, investigators said. Fowler said Reed told her he didn't have to come back, since there was no written contract, committing him to the job.
"He told me there's not a thing I could do about it," said Fowler. She called the building department on July 17.
Reed told police he didn't finish the work because Mary Fowler prevented him from returning, investigators said.
Reed was being held at Hernando County jail on $2,000 bail Wednesday.
-- Jennifer Liberto covers business and development in Hernando County and can be reached at 848-1434. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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