The Howard County Prosecutor’s Office leveled more charges at a local construction contractor who stands accused of swindling money out of elderly clients. Court records indicate the Kokomo man may have scammed seniors out of more than $85,000.
Late last month a Kokomo Police Department investigation resulted in Dennis Sanders, the owner of Ace Handyman and Construction, being charged with felony counts of home improvement fraud and theft. The allegation at the time was that Sanders was engaging in home improvement contracts with elderly clients, cashing the checks they paid for services and materials, and then never completing the work.
Since then, the KPD investigation uncovered more supposed victims, and now Sanders stands accused of three counts of home improvement fraud, all level 5 felonies, and three counts of theft as level 6 felonies.
More so, court records indicate Sanders left a trail of similar victims, who sought restitution through small claims court.
“He takes his money and squanders it somewhere. I don’t know where,” said Sue Hight, a 74-year-old retiree of Delco. “You would call him and say, ‘Where are you?’ And it’s, ‘Well, my cousin died, and we’re at the funeral.’ Then he’s in Arizona. Then he’s somewhere else. It was always an excuse with him. You could never get him. I just washed my hands of it … I borrowed on my house to get the extra money to get it done.”
Hight said she entered into a contract with Sanders last September for renovations to her home, which she’d hoped to get completed by December so she could sell her home to downsize. According to a probable cause affidavit, Sanders requested $2,500 on signing in September, which Hight paid, and then the contractor requested another $1,000 in December to pay his workers. Hight also cut a check with Sanders for that amount. According to Hight and court documents, Sanders’ workers completed some of the renovations, but then in December after he received the second check, he stopped returning the Kokomo woman’s calls to complete the work.
Hight reported the incident to police, and she and her husband have been forced to put off their move until they can afford to complete the work on their home.
Along with what allegedly occurred with Hight, KPD also found two other similar incidents of theft. One instance involved a 76-year-old Kokomo man with lung cancer, who according to a probable cause affidavit paid Sanders $48,025 for work on his home. That work, alleged police, was never completed in full.
Another instance involved a 77-year-old Kokomo woman who reportedly paid Sanders $6,500 for work on her home. That work, similarly, was never finished after the contract was signed in July 2018.
Court records also indicate other individuals likely had similar run-ins with Sanders.
Susan Young, a Kokomo resident, filed a civil suit against Sanders and Ace Handyman and Construction in February. In her suit, she claimed Sanders was paid $10,800 for work and repairs to her home, which were never completed, and the work was abandoned. She also claimed Sanders refused to provide receipts for material purchases she paid for, and she needed the receipts to file with her taxes. She eventually was awarded $6,000 in a default judgment by a Howard County court.
Upon hearing about the criminal charges Sanders faces, Young said, “It couldn’t happen to a better person. I’m sorry, but it’s just wrong. There’s something wrong with that man’s mind.”
Young said Sanders told her a similar story to what he told another alleged victim, which was detailed in a probable cause affidavit, when he requested more money from the woman.
“He came back and told me, which he had told me the first time he was here, that this daughter had lupus,” said Young. “The only thing they could do right now was experimental medications, and insurance wouldn’t cover them. And they were very expensive. He told me he had spent the first money on his daughter’s medication. It was just like a well-written play.”
Sanders allegedly told a similar tale to the 76-year-old with lung cancer, who told police Sanders drove him to a local hospital and that Sanders entered the building to “talk to his wife.”
After being in the hospital for about three minutes, the man told the KPD officer that Sanders came back with a cup of coffee and appeared upset. Sanders allegedly told the man his wife was supposed to be on an experimental medication that he couldn’t afford. The man then wrote Sanders a check for $3,885 to “help him pay for his experimental medication.”
A detective told an Indianapolis news station that he’d spoken with Sanders’ wife, and she did not have cancer, although it’s not explicitly stated in court documents that Sanders claimed his wife had cancer.
In total, the criminal charges against Sanders amount to alleged victims claiming the contractor had taken $60,525 from them. On the civil side, four recent cases had been filed, and those amounted to victims claiming the Kokomo man had taken $25,000 from them. All of the civil suits resulted in default judges being issued in favor of the plaintiffs.
Sanders was arrested on July 30 and remains in the Howard County jail with a $45,000 cash bond.