READY: The sorry summer saga of a landscape scam

Mary Ready
Mary Ready

My landscaper came highly recommended by a sweet couple in my church who had known him for years. And on my first meeting with him, I was impressed he had degrees in irrigation systems, arboreal science (trees), and theology. He had a lovely wife who was a youth minister and three brilliant, accomplished teenagers.

So, maybe my stupidity can be forgiven somewhat when he turned out to be a scam artist who cost me a fortune. Worse, by the time I caught on, he had scammed three of my neighbors and my church.

He was to cut my grass weekly, fix my defective irrigation, and do landscaping that involved putting in an area of pavers and decorative stones. He cut the grass at odd times and sometimes disappeared in the middle of mowing; the irrigation system went haywire after he supposedly revamped it at great cost; and three landscape projects were left incomplete in a mess of broken pavers, dead grass, dirt piles, and heavy bags of rocks sitting on what little green grass I had left. Week after week, he promised to come finish the projects, but that never happened. He would come for an hour or so, then tell me he had to leave for a few minutes to go to the bathroom but would be right back to finish the job. Then he wouldn’t show up for several days. In the interim, he didn’t answer my calls or texts to ask why he didn’t return. Was he still in the bathroom?

Why did I let this go on?

Well, for one thing, he kept telling me his cell phone was lost, then stolen, then ruined by rain. He said the money I gave him for grass sod got stolen. I gave him more money for sod, but he told me the sod farm owner took my money and went to jail on a DUI before delivering. Then, he told me his truck broke down, his equipment was stolen from the repair shop, his brother died, the rain kept him from working, his wallet got stolen twice, and when I asked him for the receipts for landscape purchases, he said those were stolen as well. My heart broke for this poor guy who seemed to have a black cloud looming over his head.

By the time I wised up, a lot of damage had already been done. Since he knew I owned a business, he went to Lowe’s, used my business name and phone number and charged over $1,200 worth of items on my account. Judging from my bill, I bought him a new lawn mower, power tools, and a lot of plants that never made it to my yard.

In the meantime, he was working for my neighbors and my church while pulling the same shenanigans: payments in advance for yard expenses and supplies never delivered, unfinished projects, dead grass sod, broken sprinklers, no show as promised, and one crazy, colorful story after another to explain his dereliction. When my neighbor asked what happened to the yard lights she paid him to buy and install, he said his truck was stolen and all those lights were in the back of it. On the same day, he called me to say he couldn’t come because his truck was part of a taped-off crime scene in the parking lot of Home Depot. But he’d come as soon as it was released. Good thing I didn’t count on that as he never showed.

I think he's gone now, but I could be wrong. I’ve given up on him several times, but then I’d get a call saying he was on his way to my house to finish projects, mow, and pay me the Lowe’s money. Of course, he didn’t come, except for once just to tell me some emergency had come up, and he couldn’t stay. And, oh yes, he forgot to bring the money owed me.

My church didn’t lose any money, thank God, by hiring him, but it will take the new landscaper some time to repair the damage he did to our churchyard. One neighbor lost $200 to him, another neighbor lost $1,000, but the lady across the street was scammed for several thousand.

I was going to let it go and count my loss as a lesson learned, but the neighbor who got hit the worst wants us all to join her in filing a complaint. After much thought and prayer (for him), I’ve decided to do it.

I’ll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, watch out for scammers who seem too good to be true.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.