A fraudulent contractor operated under various names and posted fake reviews of his companies on websites, a court heard.
Shady Businesses Damon Owens used names like Lee King and Andrew Hansel – the latter is the identity of a dead friend – and operated under a variety of fake company names including Cardiff Construction, Scarlets Electrical, Emergency Plumbers Bristol and Drain Repair UK.
Cardiff Crown Court heard that the use of names was an attempt to hide its previous convictions from customers and “minimize the public eye”.
The court heard that he had billed a family nearly £ 17,000 for renovations to their home – but actually only carried out a small amount of demolition and excavation work, worth only a few hundred pounds.
The court heard that Owens, 34, claimed to be a former Royal Marine who was shot in the head while serving in Bosnia, did not accept the word without evidence from people who were “fraudulent in their activities”.
Owens had previously pleaded guilty to 13 consumer law violations when he appeared in the dock for conviction.
District attorney Ieuan Bennett said four of the charges related to two individual Owens clients.
One of the victims, Sam Hulland, hired Owens – who called himself Andrew Hansel and his company Cardiff Construction during their business – to carry out a major renovation of the family’s home in Rumney, Cardiff.
The court found that an estimate of £ 33,750 had been agreed between the parties and a down payment of £ 16,875 was given for the work.
After a few weeks, however, the family became concerned that “little constructive work” appeared to have been carried out on site, apart from a few demolitions and a few holes being dug.
(Image: Rob Browne)
The prosecutor said matters came to a head when the family found out that Owens had notified one of the subcontractors that he owned the property – he was expelled from the property and a dispute broke out between the parties.
The family then began negotiating directly with subcontractors working on their home – and found that they were charging significantly less for jobs than Owens.
(Image: Rob Browne)
The court later heard that an independent appraiser examined the work being done on the house and concluded that it was worth “a simple hundred pounds” – and that the Hullands had been overcharged by “at least £ 16,000.”
Sam Hulland was expecting his third child when he started looking for a suitable contractor to add to his home.
He spoke to various construction companies and sought bids before agreeing to pay Cardiff Construction £ 33,750 for a single extension to his three bedroom home on Ty-Fry Road in Rumney.
The 36-year-old, who works as an information security officer, said he had a good relationship with Owens, who he believed was a man named Andrew Hansel.
He says after Owens presented him with an offer, they would keep in touch through text messages about house designs.
Owens sent him pictures of kitchens at B&Q and other homes, claiming he was working on them.
“I really trusted him, he kept me updated and sent me pictures of kitchen designs,” said Hulland.
“He knew we were expecting another child and assured us that the work would be completed on time.”
Mr Hulland, who was living in Newport with his family at the time, agreed to a bank transfer of £ 16,875 but said the alarm bells rang shortly thereafter.
When he visited the house and found that a sewer pipe had burst, Owens apologized and asked for an additional £ 1,500 to repair the burst pipes.
“He was always alone and worked on the property because he knew we couldn’t live there at the time. He gave me cell phone numbers of people he had worked for, but I could never reach them.” he explained.
“He even offered to stay on the property overnight because there was no one else around, which was just not needed. He tried to build a friendship.
“I tried to visit the property every day to make sure everything was okay and he kept reassuring us that everything was okay.”
Mr. Hulland says Owens is suddenly out of reach. He told him his mother was sick and dying.
When Mr Hulland contacted Welsh Water, they informed him that the sewage works could only be carried out by a licensed contractor.
“I had to pay an additional £ 500 to have a licensed contractor do the work, it was tough because I already had £ 17,000 out of my own pocket,” he explained.
“It was worrying and stressful, I felt sick to deal with it and so did the arrival of my third child.
“We paid a mortgage on a house we didn’t live in, it was so hard. I felt angry when I saw the work, he had no feelings for us.”
Mr Hulland had to spend an additional £ 40,000 to complete the work on his home.
The second customer on the prosecution is an elderly Newport woman, Marion Nevison.
Owens charged her 240 pounds to fix a simple leak in her living room – then persuaded her to hand over 700 pounds by claiming the water tank needed replacing. He went by the name of UK Emergency Plumbers and then said their renovation cost would be around £ 3,000.
The lawyer said Owens told the woman he was injured while on active duty in Bosnia and the victim later thought this was part of an attempt to gain her sympathy and business.
Trading Standards opened an investigation into Owens following complaints from both customers.
The remaining nine charges made by the defendant relate to using a variety of fake business names and addresses – Cardiff Construction, Scarlets Electrical, Emergency Plumbers Bristol, South Wales Plasterers, Cardiff Plastering Ltd, Plumber Bristol, Drain Repairs UK and Fluid Emergency Plumbers – and false reviews allegedly from satisfied customers that he has posted on websites.
He called himself Lee King when he advertised as the owner of one of the fake plumbing companies.
The court heard that Owens, of Silver Street, Cross Keys, Caerphilly, has previous convictions including theft, counterfeiting, and consumer misdemeanors.
Matthew Roberts for Owens said his client claimed he was a Royal Marine who was shot in the head while serving in Bosnia.
Judge Philip Harris-Jenkins requested to see documents relating to the defendant’s military service and the injury he claimed to have suffered – the defense attorney said he asked his client to bring such documents to justice, but it was not done.
The judge said he was unwilling to “take the floor of people who are fraudulent in their activities in making such claims” and adjourned the sentencing until April 5 to allow the accused to produce evidence.
Owens had been released on bail up to that date.