4 Investigates confronts shady ‘phantom’ contractor
February 06, 2019 10:59 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- When people don’t know how to fix something around the house, they often put their trust in contractors – however, too often, New Mexico families are scammed by shady or phony hires.
When Emily Busard became ill last year, she moved in with her son in Rio Rancho.
“I wanted to pay him back so I took what I had in savings – what I had left – and I wanted to do his backyard because he’s always wanted his backyard done,” said Busard.
A friend recommended someone who could do the job for cheap – that man’s name: Russell Brasher.
Busard paid Brasher nearly $5,000 upfront. Busard signed the work agreement in September but she has been strung along ever since.
“He did a little bit and he kept promising that he would come back to finish the work and never showed up,” said Busard who is now left with shoddy work and a mess of a backyard.
Brasher was ultimately charged with fraud in Busard’s case. However, it’s not Brasher’s first brush with the law. In a separate case, Brasher was also charged with three counts of contracting without a license.
4 Investigates made contact with at least 10 people – mostly in Rio Rancho – who have complaints about Brasher.
Susan and Thomas Osborn of Rio Rancho filed a civil case against Brasher and won. He now owes them $10,000.
“He was supposed to do remodeling in our house,” said Susan Osborn. “He kept asking for more money and more money… never showed up to do any of the work. He’s a con man.”
State records reveal Brasher has never been a licensed contractor in New Mexico.
Both Brasher and his wife recently filed for bankruptcy. The official court filing lists several of Brasher’s alleged victims as “personal loans.” Victims worry that might mean they’ll never get their money back.
“I don’t understand how you can file bankruptcy on a claim that’s, in essence, fraudulent,” said Busard.
4 Investigates tracked down Brasher following a bankruptcy hearing to ask him about it. He said a paralegal made the mistake listing some claims as “personal loans” on his bankruptcy filings.
However, Brasher gave a different story about of his unfinished construction jobs.
“It’s not that I’m not paying them back, I was fired in the middle of a job. I wanted to complete it but I couldn’t,” said Brasher.
Busard said she tried several times to get in contact with Brasher but “they have repeatedly refused to give me back my money so I can hire someone else.”
When asked if he intends to return payments for unfinished jobs, Brasher responded: “Absolutely, every penny.”
As of Wednesday, those payments have not been returned to the alleged victims.
Brasher is just one of 500 cases currently under investigation at the New Mexico Construction Industries Division.
“We’re extremely busy,” said Martin Romero who is the acting director for CID. “We are stretched for resources.”
The department only has five full-time workers dedicated to investigating claims across the state.
“I assure you that there are some individual offenders that have been repeat offenders that we are actively going after as we speak,” said Romero.
However, efforts are underway to ask lawmakers in Santa Fe for more funding to hire more staff and to ramp up their campaign to educate the public.
Another challenge: the current statute of limitations for criminal charges is only one year.
However, House Bill 456, sponsored by Representative Dayan Hochman-Vigil, aims to expand the time limit to three years – allowing more time to pursue justice.
To report a complaint, contact the Construction Industries Division, click here.
Updated: February 06, 2019 10:59 PM
Created: February 06, 2019 07:10 PM
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