Police arrest 2 in chimney scam
Darien Police, in conjunction with investigators from the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, arrested two men for their alleged involvement in chimney scams on Wednesday.
The men, Clifford E. Kearns, 51, of Sheldon, N.Y., and John R. Rastrelli, 26, of Stuart, Fla., were each charged with second-degree larceny of a victim over 60, conspiracy, possession of marijuana, failure to provide duplicate notice of cancellation, failure to orally notify notice of cancellation, failure to possess contractors registration, impersonating a registered home improvement contractor and failure to posses/display Connecticut sales tax permit.
Darien Police received a complaint from a 75-year-old Darien woman in late December. According to police, the woman reported that representatives from Priority Home Improvements of Massapequa, N.Y., came to her house and attempted to charge her for unneeded improvements to her chimney.
This week, the police arranged an appointment with the company at the residence of a 79-year-old Darien man. Prior to making the appointment, the police and the DCP had the resident's chimney examined by the town's building inspector and an independent contractor, police said. According to the two professional opinions, the chimney did not need repairs, police said.
Kearns and Rastrelli arrived at the home at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. Rastrelli, who told police he is a welder by trade and had only been working with the company for one day, inspected the chimney and told the homeowner that he would need $1,300 in repairs, according to Lt. Ron Bussell. The two suspects then told the resident that they would give him a senior discount and charge him only $1,200 for the repairs, but they required an immediate $800 deposit, Bussell said.
The suspects told the homeowner the $1,200 would cover the cots of repairing a couple rows of bricks, sealing, caulking, fixing the flashing, waterproofing and installing a new device on the damper, according to Robert Nakano, a supervising special investigator for the DCP.
"Our victim was 79 years old," Bussell said. "They thought they had him."
The resident wrote a check for the deposit, at which point police officers moved in and made the arrest, Bussell said.
At that point, police searched the suspects' van, where they found two bags of marijuana as well as a list of other potential victims they planned to meet with, Bussell said. There were three addresses on the list: one from Greenwich; one from New Canaan; and another address in Darien. Bussell said they are not yet certain whether they had already met with these other residents.
Both men were arraigned in Stamford Superior Court on Thursday morning. They are each scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 19.
According to the Stamford Superior Court clerk, Kearns is being held on a $25,000 bond and Rastrelli is being held on a $35,000 bond.
The police department confiscated the workers' van, Bussell said. Earlier this month, another of the company's vehicles had been confiscated in Wilton due to a similar incident, according to Bussell. Different employees at the company have been involved in similar recent incidents throughout Fairfield County.
"This is the company that had the incident in Greenwich in January, when they went to a house and tried to scam the owner, but he pulled out a gun on them," Bussell said. "Same truck, but different guys."
Bussell and Nakano stressed the importance of protecting oneself from predatory chimney scams.
"It doesn't hurt to have someone look at your chimney if you use it a lot," Nakano said.
Make sure to ask a lot of questions from any firm offering to inspect your chimney, never agree to anything on the spot, always do your homework and collect estimates from at least three companies, Nakano said.
"If you're uncomfortable, call the Department of Consumer Protection and the police department," he said.