Two Long Island men were arraigned last week for allegedly targeting elderly homeowners in a chimney repair scam throughout Queens.
According to prosecutors, Bruce Wimmer, 29, and his brother Michael Cristiano, 32, made unsolicited visits to homes and charged exorbitant prices on repairs that were either not necessary or not performed. The brothers allegedly operated under Reliable Chimney, Inc. and American Chimney.
On January 3, Cristiano allegedly targeted a 94-year-old woman in their scam. Prosecutors said the men told the homeowner her chimney needed repair and charged $2,850. When the victim did not have cash, the men allegedly placed the homeowner in their van and drove her to the bank to get money. Cristiano returned to the house on two other occasions and threatened that liens would be placed on the home if an additional $8,630 worth of repairs were not paid, prosecutors said.
The two men are also charged in two other cases in Queens and allegedly stole more than $30,000 from their victims.
An independent chimney company examined the victims’ homes for the District Attorney’s office and found that either no work was performed or the prices quoted for the repairs exceeded market value.
Because the brothers allegedly targeted senior citizens, they are charged with grand larceny as a hate crime. Additionally, they are charged with criminal possession of stolen property, scheme to defraud and for operating a home improvement business without a license. If convicted, they each face up to 15 years in prison.
“This alleged crime is particularly egregious as the defendants are accused of targeting elderly homeowners,” Queens DA Richard Brown said. “It is charged that once they managed to get their foot in the door, they used high pressure sales tactics to steal substantial amounts of additional monies from their victims by telling them that more and more work needed to be done and that if they didn’t pay, a lien would be placed on their properties and they would be forced to move.”
Local leaders and neighborhood police precincts have been warning residents about door-to-door scams over the last several months. Last November, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) warned residents about a similar chimney scam throughout his district.
The DA’s office urges any individual who believes they may also have been victimized by the defendants to contact the economic crimes bureau at 718-286-6673 to file a complaint.
Another popular scam that has plagued the area is people posing as a utility company, Brooklyn Union Maintenance. Other fake companies operate by posing as companies, and once inside the home, steal valuables.
There have also been reports of other scams. Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together warned residents of men going to houses attempting to con homeowners out of money by concocting tall tales.
Community Affairs Officer Thomas Bell of the 104th Precinct has repeatedly warned residents to be wary of any unsolicited visits. If approached, deny entrance to your home and call 911 if the individuals are acting suspicious, Bell said.