Alleged landscape scammer arrested

After pruning John Herren's trees on El Dorado Drive in Gilroy, the alleged pruning scammer left his the branches and his equipment without ever returning to finish the job.

About a month after police launched an investigation of the man who roams around door-to-door in Santa Clara County, looking for victims who will pay him upfront for landscaping services he doesn’t complete, police arrested the alleged “landscape scammer” Monday night in Gilroy.

Gilroy resident Michael Oliveira, 43, the man who at least a dozen people in Gilroy recognize as the area’s suspected landscape scammer, was arrested at 8 p.m. at the National 9 Motel on Monterey Street where he was staying, according to Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao. His arrest wasn’t connected to any of the landscape fraud cases, but police are still hot on his track for allegedly fleecing residents out of hundreds of dollars for landscape services he did not complete.

“Because of the numerous reports of alleged activity for Oliveira, the investigations into the scams are still open,” Gallacinao said. When police wrap up their investigation, they plan to send the report to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office who will handle the prosecution of Oliveira.

Oliveira was arrested on warrants for selling stolen property, possession of a controlled substance, and various vehicle code violations. Oliveira did not resist arrest, and remains in Santa Clara County Jail with no bail.

The Dispatch published an April 24 story about a man who goes door-to-door under the guise of a charming landscaper, convincing victims (often senior citizens) to pay him upfront for services he never completes. Since that story, 12 more people contacted the Dispatch with strikingly similar stories of allegedly being scammed by Oliveira.

Initially, police did not launch an investigation, saying that Oliveira’s alleged activity wasn’t criminal, as they could not prove an “intent to defraud” by just a few cases.

But on May 7, goaded by several more reports from scamming victims in response to the Dispatch story, Gallacinao said police had opened up an investigation and encouraged victims to contact, or re-contact police with any information they have on the landscape scammer. Since then, 12 Gilroy residents have filed police reports against the alleged landscape scammer. Corporal Justine Matsuhara, who took the lead in the nearly completed investigation, invited victims to tell their stories and choose Oliveira’s photo from a line-up.

Police are not identifying Oliveira as the suspect for all 12 cases.

Oliveira’s alleged victims described Oliveira as a smooth talker, who looked them in the eye, smiled, and shook their hands as he took their cash. Even those who said they are normally hesitant to hire a door-to-door solicitor said Oliveira won them over with his laid-back air and sense of humor.

Victims of Oliveira’s alleged crimes expressed relief that he is no longer on the loose, tricking more victims into hiring him for work he won’t complete.

“I think it’s great he’s off the streets, that is just that many more people he won’t be scamming,” said Morgan Hill resident Dave Larton, who had allegedly been scammed by Oliveira for $600 a few years ago.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Larton said.

Seventy-five-year-old Gilroy resident John Herren, said Oliveira scammed him for $380 early April.

“It’s great to hear he’s behind bars,” Herren said.

One 77-year-old man who had also been conned by Oliveira for $350 in April declined to give his name, but said he’s happy that Oliveira is in jail without bail.

“Everybody should be relieved,” he said. “I’m glad the police woke up and and got shaken up over this.”

But for this Gilroy man, the story isn’t over until the DA decides whether or not it will prosecute Oliveira for the scams he allegedly devised for seniors.

“I am interested in getting my money back,” he said. “But we’ll see how it goes.”

If you recognize Oliveira and have any tips, contact GPD at 846-0300.

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