Nailed by Repair
only ones falling
November 23, 2007
BY DAVID GIALANELLA
For $8,500, the West Dundee couple was supposed to get a whole lot more than
a mound of gravel and a torn-up backyard.
That's how much the couple paid Bartlett-based landscaper William R. Sippel
to install a patio and walkway behind their home, on the 1300 block of Maple
Circle. When the work was never finished, they called Sippel's company,
Bill's Landscaping, to complain, but were told the company had gone out of
business, according to court records.
So the couple sued and won. On Oct. 29, a judge entered a default judgment
against Sippel and his wife, Gloria J. Sippel, also of Bill's Landscaping,
after they failed to appear for the hearing, records indicate.
"He knew he was going out of business," said the husband, whose asked that
his name be withheld. "He knew he was hurting for money. I know there's
worse things in the world that can happen to someone, but to this day I
don't know how you can look someone in the eye and take their money."
Home repair fraud is an ongoing problem, and growing residential areas
provide plenty of targets. It may seem like an easy way to make a buck
because many of these incidents go unreported, according to police. But
getting caught could lead to more than a lawsuit; a criminal conviction
could mean up to seven years in prison.
Not only does William Sippel owe the couple $8,500 plus attorney's fees, he
now is charged with felonies in connection with another alleged scam that
took place in Elgin.
Sippel, 44, of the 200 block of Butler Drive, Bartlett, is charged with one
felony count each of aggravated home repair fraud and theft. He filed for
bankruptcy months ago.
According to court records, on July 16, Sippel agreed to install a patio for
an elderly resident living on the 2900 block of Shamrock Drive in Elgin.
Sippel accepted payment from the man but did not complete the work or have
the means to do so, prosecutors say. He is free after posting $600 bond on
the charge. His wife is not criminally charged.
Well known in area
Many who attempt home repair fraud move from community to community to avoid
being recognized as swindlers, but it appears Bill's Landscaping was fairly
well known. The West Dundee couple was told -- after the incident -- that
Sippel shortchanged another area family and had a deteriorating reputation
among other local contractors, they said.
The couple, aged 37 and 39, live in a part of West Dundee where many
homeowners were having outside improvements done, they said. They received
Sippel's brochure, and heard from a neighbor that he did good work.
The couple admits they ought to have checked with the Better Business Bureau
-- a search of the Web site shows an unsatisfactory record for Bill's
Landscaping due to unanswered complaints. But even experts wouldn't peg them
as easy targets; people in their 30s aren't commonly victimized, one local
Much like ruse-entry scams -- where thieves pose as utility workers in order
to gain entry to a house -- home repair fraud often strikes the elderly.
There are many reasons why seniors make perfect marks, according to Elgin
Police Elderly Service Officer Cherie Aschenbrenner.
"They're usually home during the day," Aschenbrenner said, adding that scam
artists will tell residents that they can perform the home improvements
"They talk real fast. They don't give them a chance to think," she said.
Aschenbrenner said driveway repaving is one common scam. Swindlers will
offer to do the work right then and there, using dyed water to coat the
driveway, taking the payment, and disappearing.
Scam artists are opportunistic and the schemes are always changing. After
the late-August storms and flooding in the Fox Valley, it's particularly
important right now for residents to keep an eye out for scammers who pose
as government representatives, the Federal Emergency Management Agency
recently warned citizens.
Tough cases to build
Perhaps another reason home repair fraud is prevalent is it's often
difficult to build a case against suspects, said Elgin Police Detective Jim
"Number one, you've got to track them down," which is very difficult when
they migrate, Roscher said. Also, sometimes authorities must prove the
suspect didn't have the crews, equipment, time or money to do the job, he
said. Bankruptcy is another factor.
As with any kind of scam, the best way to avoid wasting your money is to do
your homework, experts say. Residents are encouraged to research contractors
and get a number of estimates. Prices well below the market value
automatically should raise suspicions, authorities say.
Just like Mom used to say: if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.