News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 25, 2011

PHOTO UPDATE: Contractor arrested for home improvement fraud

TERRE HAUTE — A contractor who received more than $80,000 in grant money to do home repairs for seven clients affected by the June 2008 flooding in the Wabash Valley has been arrested for home improvement fraud.

Lyman M. Roberts Jr., 39, was booked into the Vigo County Jail today on a warrant for three class-D felony and four class-A misdemeanor charges of home improvement fraud.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Roberts received $80,700 from the Wabash Valley Disaster Relief Coalition, which had received a $6 million grant from the Lilly Foundation, to be administered by the United Way of the Wabash Valley.

“It’s important for the public to know that this was not donor money, it was grant money,” Troy Fears, director of the United Way, told the Tribune-Star. The $80,700 paid to Roberts came from the disaster recovery funds. None of the agencies who receive funding from the United Way of the Wabash Valley was affected by the alleged fraud, Fears said.

The disaster relief coalition was formed following the 2008 floods to provide help to families who were unable to repair their homes due to flood or storm damage. The coalition hired several local contractors, including Roberts Construction, owned by Lyman Roberts.

The affidavit states that Roberts bid on several jobs from Nov. 14, 2009, through April 27, 2010, and was approved for those jobs. Roberts’ bid required that a substantial portion of the total amount be paid in advance. Roberts finished only two jobs, and left several either unfinished or never started. When contacted by letter about the unfinished work, Roberts did not respond, the affidavit states.

Fears said that of the seven clients affected, all have since had other assigned contractors, who completed the work. Those contractors were paid an additional $57,125 from grant money, according to Fears.

The money paid up front to Roberts was for materials to do the work, Fears explained. A majority of the contractors were paid a portion of their bids up front to purchase materials, with the balance being paid upon completion of the work.

Fears said the United Way did attempt to get in contact with Roberts last fall to resolve the issues, but he did not respond to a request to reimburse the money. The grant period ended Dec. 31, 2010. The criminal investigation began this year.

“We’re just not going to let this happen in our community,” Fears said of the alleged fraud.

A hearing for Roberts is set for Monday in Vigo Superior Court 3. He was booked into the county jail with bail set at $25,000 cash only.

 

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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