“Contractor” charged

WESTFIELD – An unlicensed contractor whose special skill seems to be collecting payments in advance from elderly residents may find his career in the home improvement industry interrupted after he answered charges filed in Westfield District Court.
Norman W. Oliver, 50, of a last known address of 7 Sackett St., who does business as Choice #1 Contractors, came to the attention of city detective Todd Edwards in July when a city resident, Denise J. Melbourne, 81, complained that he had taken payments from her for work which was never started.
Melbourne said in a recent telephone interview that she had hired him in February of this year to replace the roof on her mobile home and paid him “almost $1,700” but “he didn’t do anything.”
She said that she had found him through an advertisement in which his ad, unlike a competitor’s ad, offered a ten percent discount for senior citizens.
“The only reason I did it was because he offered a ten percent discount,” she said.
She said that her mobile home was leaking into a closet making it unusable and damaging the trailer.
“It floods every time it rains hard,” she said.
“I wanted him to do the whole roof, plus the porch roof” which was also leaking, she said, but said that “It finally dawned on me that’s he’s not going to do nothing” so she called police.
She said her mobile home is still leaking and said it hasn’t been repaired because “I haven’t got no money to do it. My money’s tied up with him.”
She said that an assistant district attorney she spoke with said she would get her money back.
Edwards reports, in a document filed at Westfield District Court in support of a criminal complaint, that his investigations showed that Oliver “took five payments totaling $1,717.50” after he was hired as a home improvement contractor. “Mr. Oliver did not start any work on the residence” but gave the victims excuses and “eventually stopped answering his phone” Edwards reports.
Edwards reports that after Oliver was contacted by city police in May he made verbal agreements to provide restitution to the victim but did not do so.
Edwards also found that Oliver is not listed, either by his name or his company’s name, on the state’s directory of licensed contractors and “was found guilty for a similar case in 1997 in Springfield District Court.”
Edwards applied for a warrant in July on charges of larceny of property valued more than $250 from a person older than 60 years-of-age.
He was arraigned on the larceny charge July 13 and held briefly until $1,000 bail was posted.
Edwards also said that Oliver was unable to show him any documentation to show that he had ever completed a job.
But there is no lack of documentation to show that he accepted payment for jobs.
In September, two more residents of Hampden Village complained to police that Oliver had taken money for jobs he never started.
One of the women, Kathleen G. Rider of First Avenue, said that Oliver came to her attention when she assisted a neighbor who was unable to be present when Choice #1 Contractors repaired the floor of her mobile home.
“They did beautiful work, that’s why I hired him” Rider said and went on to say that Oliver did a good job repairing damage to the siding of her mobile home caused by last year’s Halloween snowstorm. But, she said, he identified a problem on the roof of her home around the chimney and removed tiles that had been damaged.
Rider said that she gave him $250 in cash to buy supplies to replace the tiles but he never returned to the job, making an endless series of excuses when she was able to speak with him.
“I had to hire somebody else to have it finished,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate that he did what he did because he does do very good work,” she said.
Rider said that she knows of a neighbor who lost “almost $2,000” she gave Oliver for a roof repair.
Edwards filed criminal complaints on behalf of both of the new complainants but arraignment is pending on those charges.
Edwards said that Oliver seems to have targeted the Hampden Village residents.
“He’s victimizing the women in the trailer park,” he said who are vulnerable because “Maybe there isn’t somebody they can turn to for maintenance.”
District Attorney Mark Mastroianni said, “We take elder abuse cases like this pretty seriously.”
He said that while he cannot comment about specifics of the ongoing investigation he did say “I can confirm that we’re investigating three allegations” and said that investigators from the elder abuse unit of his office are working with city police on the case.
If convicted of the larceny charge, Oliver faces a penalty of as much as a two and a half year term in the house of corrections and/or a fine of as much as $50,000.
If the case is heard in superior court, the penalty could increase to a ten-year term in state prison.

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