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Home Wrecker : Sylmar Quake Victim Says ‘Contractor’ Trashed House

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The rash of home repair scams that have blossomed in the aftermath of the Northridge quake took a particularly troublesome turn for Sylmar homeowner Rodney Gilmore.

Gilmore, a KTLA-TV cameraman, said that when he placed an ad trying to sell his quake-damaged home, a man claiming to be a contractor answered it and offered him a deal on repairs. Gilmore says he never hired the man, but that when he returned to his home a few days later, he found that Sammy Garcia, his wife, six children and three other relatives had moved in.

It was not until much later that Gilmore discovered with whom he was dealing: Garcia holds no contractor’s license and there is a warrant out for his arrest for similar scams in the region.

Gilmore, who was living in his other home in Los Angeles, told police that he confronted the family, but that Garcia persuaded him to let the family rent the house while Garcia finished repairing other homes in the area.

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What followed was a seven-month nightmare for Gilmore as he tried to regain his house. He spent numerous days in court fighting Garcia. When he tried to visit his own home, Garcia refused to let him enter. Garcia never paid rent and even filed for bankruptcy to avoid being evicted, police said.

The episode came to a climax last week when Gilmore, who had finally managed to evict Garcia after two failed efforts, returned to his Sylmar home to find that property worth thousands of dollars had been stolen, including a Jacuzzi with gazebo, an entertainment center, a refrigerator and a spa.

In addition, Gilmore said, about $31,000 in damage had been done to the exterior and interior of the home. Most of the walls are covered by graffiti, others are completely torn down, and trash and empty bottles cover floors in more than half the home. Gilmore’s yard is a wasteland of putrid odors, building bricks and unused pieces of wood.

Garcia and his family have vanished.

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Residents on the block said Garcia and what they called his “band of vagrants” wreaked havoc on the neighborhood, harassing neighbors and throwing loud parties.

“There were so many of them and they caused so much trouble that no one wanted to confront them,” said neighbor David Bransbe, staring at the broken-down home.

Bransbe said Garcia hired his children and other youngsters in the area to work on minor jobs, but then he never paid them.

Warnesha Woodfin, who lives directly across from the house, said Garcia offered to repair her home. She said she was reluctant to hire him because of his behavior in the neighborhood. Other residents said Garcia also offered his services to them, for a fee.

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Police said Garcia gave Gilmore a fake contractor’s license number, which is actually registered to a group in Palm Springs called Creative Construction. The firm denied any working relationship with Sammy Garcia.

Once Gilmore became suspicious of Garcia, it was too late.

“When I called the contracting board and said Garcia’s name, the woman gasped, as if she already knew who he was,” Gilmore said.

This is the latest in a string of complaints about Garcia, said Dennis Bishop, supervising deputy of the Unlicensed Activity Unit of the Contractors State License Board.

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According to Bishop, just last year the board tried to capture “Sam” Garcia through an undercover bust in El Toro. But, just as an officer moved in to arrest Garcia, he fled on foot and has not been seen by state officials since.

“We keep getting reports of where he is, but every time we go there, he’s gone,” Bishop said.

Before the incident with Gilmore, Bishop said Garcia was wanted for two counts of contracting without a license and there was at least a $10,000 warrant for his arrest.

“He is a real piece of work; there is nothing beyond this guy--he might do anything,” he said.

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Detectives in the Devonshire and Foothill divisions of the LAPD said this was just the latest in a string of quake-repair scams, where contractors or people posing as contractors promise repairs and take advantage of homeowners.

From Gilmore’s perspective, he learned a valuable lesson that may be useful for other quake victims.

“This man really used the legal system to his advantage,” he said. “He was a real pro.”


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