‘Landscape scammer’ not paying restitution, says victim

Michael Oliveira

One of the victims in South County’s “landscape scammer” case says the man convicted of taking $350 for tree trimming work that was never finished is not paying his court-ordered restitution.
Michael Oliveira, the 44-year-old Gilroy man who scammed more than 25 people into paying him for landscape jobs he never completed, plead guilty to 20 counts of theft and elder fraud on Jan. 24, and on April 17, was sentenced to 120 days in county jail. He was also booked on six outstanding warrants in Gilroy on Nov. 9 at 5:10 p.m., after his release from jail, including selling or aiding in the sale of stolen property, probation violation, driving with privileges suspended or revoked, driving with expired registration, failing to provide evidence of financial responsibility and failure to show registration upon demand.
An employee of the restitution-divvying Santa Clara County Department of Revenue said she could not verify Oliveira’s status on paying the victims back.
“Basically, I can’t give you any of his information because you’re not a party to it,” she said. “You can try contacting (Oliveira) if you have his phone number or you can contact the District Attorney’s Office to find out what’s going on. But, as we told one of the victims, until he pays us we can’t send them anything.”
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s “Adult Offender’s Guide to Restitution,” restitution never goes away. Even if someone declares bankruptcy, restitution does not disappear, according to the guide.
Deputy District Attorney Janet Berry said she has been keeping a close eye on this case, and that Oliveira’s attorney assured her client will be making payments.
“When we get alerted that someone is not making payments, what we do is file a motion with the court for a violation of probation so that the defendant has to come in and explain to the court why he’s not making his payments,” Berry said, adding that she has not filed a motion for this case. “I have it set out in a month or two to contact the Department of Revenue to see what’s going on. And if nothing’s going on, we’ll act accordingly.”
Alfred Whitaker, one of the victims in the case who said he hasn’t received any restitution checks lately, first heard Oliveira knock on his door on April 12, 2012. Whitaker opened the door – something he normally doesn’t do with strangers – and noted that Oliveira pulled up in a newer truck with “all the bells and whistles” wearing an official-looking orange vest often worn by City employees.
“He was a fast talker and kind of obnoxious,” the 78-year-old Whitaker said of Oliveira. “He just kept pushing.”
Just days prior, Whitaker had gotten a quote for $1,200 for a tree-trimming job from a different vendor, but Oliveira quoted Whitaker the same job for much less – $350 with $100 paid up front for the “dumping fee.”
“I said, ‘I guess that’s reasonable,’ so I wrote him a check,” Whitaker recalled.
Oliveira first introduced himself to Whitaker as Mitchell DeRosa. Later that day, he signed the back of the $100 check as M. Oliveira, according to Whitaker – who was debating canceling the check due to the discrepancy until Oliveira showed up at his home complaining of a broken axle on his trailer. Oliveira claimed he needed cash for the hardship.
“My wife said to give him the money so I went to the bank and got him some money,” Whitaker said. “He did a little work while we were waiting but when he came all he had was a little handsaw.”
Oliveira then asked Whitaker if he had tree trimming tools and a ladder he could borrow, which he did, but he remembers it was “kind of strange” he didn’t have any landscaping equipment of his own.
Feeling suspicious, Whitaker said he scribbled down the license plate number of Oliveira’s car – this time, a rundown sedan.
After realizing he’d been duped, Whitaker took his complaint to the attention of the Gilroy Police Department.
“I told the (GPD) Oliveira used a fake name and they said he uses six different names,” Whitaker said.
The license plate Whitaker wrote down came back as an invalid license and was probably stolen, he added.
“The victims are getting anxious for their restitution,” Whitaker said, adding that Oliveira owes the other victims more than $8,000.
Berry acknowledged it must be “frustrating” for Whitaker, since he is just one of many victims on the list for Oliveira to pay back. She explained other victims are ahead of Whitaker, slated to receive their checks before he does.
This type of scam happens quite frequently, according to Berry, particularly amongst the senior community. It’s a misdemeanor to contract without a license, but if someone defrauds an elder for more than $950, it’s a felony offense punishable by up to four years imprisonment, she said
“Knowing that elders are generally a really polite crowd, scammers are happy to take advantage of that and will do fake repair scams and fake landscaping scams to take elders’ money,” she said.
Berry works in elder fraud prevention and has put together a list of tips to help curb the number of senior citizens who are taken advantage of.
“The bottom line is: if you don’t know the person on your doorstep, don’t even unlock the door,” Berry said. “Once you open the door, you’re vulnerable. Tell the person to go away, and if they don’t go away, then you call the police. There are unscrupulous folks who just show up at the door and either start work or just try to bully or intimidate the elder into doing repairs they don’t need.”
Don’t ever do a business deal from the front porch, she added.
“Elders can get together with their neighborhood, community members or church group and put together a list of reliable repair people that they have personal experience with,” Berry continued. “They won’t be vulnerable to folks coming door-to-door wanting to get in their house.”
Because once the money’s falls in the scammer’s hands, it’s gone and it’s not easy to recover.
“Even if somebody’s making payments on the restitution amounts, elders need their money now,” Berry said. “What may seem to be a small amount of money for anybody else is a lot of money to somebody on a fixed income.”

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