Gail O’Brien is a woman not easily fooled, but she believes she is one of the latest victims of a man who has preyed on people from coast to coast.
“I don’t usually get bamboozled by people. I’ve done a lot of remodeling in my day, and have never had a problem before,” she said.
Until, that is, she hired Hammer Time construction and a man named Richard Laughner.
“He’s a con man and a thief,” the 70-something Texan said.
O’Brien hired Laughner to remodel her son’s home in Bettendorf, Iowa. That was back on October 13, 2013.
The house is still a mess, unfinished and without air conditioning or heat. What was done, needs re-fixing.
And Laughner, split. He is nowhere to be found.
O’Brien had written checks to Laughner for $6,100, $4,500 and $3,500, to buy a granite countertop and other building materials. There were other checks written along the way.
“But he never bought the stuff. Even though he lied to me, boldfaced, and said he had purchased that,” O’Brien said.
All the while, he was playing on her emotions. O’Brien’s husband had recently died of an aggressive form of cancer. She told Laughner about her loss.
“He knew I had just recently lost someone I love very much to cancer; a terrible cancer. So, of course, part of his ploy to me was ‘I’ve just been found to have Stage 2 colon cancer.’ He told me that, yes,” O’Brien tearfully recalled. “All this stuff that he knew would hit me sympathetically.”
What’s amazing is, it’s just the latest in a string of complaints about the Milan, Illinois man who also goes by the alias Richard Frankz.
“People have come forward, from Florida to California, who say he’s talked them out of their life savings, and taken them for a ride to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time,” O’Brien said.
Former business partners, customers, and romantic partners; many of whom have had to declare bankruptcy before they even knew what hit them.
“Four-hundred and eight thousand dollars. I lost everything but my house. He wiped me out,” said Lanita West, who was engaged to Frankz until he dumped her one day, but not before opening credit cards in her name.
Some women admit they were too trusting, but say they were hustled right out of their life savings – saddled with credit card debt – while he went on spending sprees. He bought a luxury boat, flew in a private plane and drove a Porsche.
“He scammed us, he took upwards of $200,000 in credit cards in my name, rented cars in my name, stole my mail; he turned my life into a disaster,” said one of his alleged victims in Florida.
Several say they went to local and state authorities, and even to the FBI, but in every case, he’s avoided criminal charges. All of the women say they were told it is a civil matter.
While many have successfully won judgements worth hundreds of thousands of dollars against him, they have never seen a dime.
“We went to the police and they would do nothing. They said it was a business deal gone bad,” said another woman in Florida.
O’Brien says she is out $30,000, and she figured out what the deal was after Googling him.
“He’s conned people in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Illinois and now Iowa. But he’s never been prosecuted. But this is not a victimless crime,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien went to file a report with the Bettendorf Police department. A detective looked into the matter, but told her the county attorney’s office believed it, too, was “a civil matter.”
O’Brien, who was married to a circuit court judge, disagrees.
“Taking that money and using it personally? To me that is fraud or misappropriation of funds,” she said.
It appears Laughner hit hard times recently. He and his wife were in the process of divorcing. She moved to Carmel, California. Their nice home in Milan is still up for sale, and Laughner was living in a rundown apartment complex in East Moline. But he’s gone now, with no forwarding address.
O’Brien says Laughner has texted her a couple of times, telling her “checks are in the mail,” and that he’s taken off for California for “treatment.”
She doesn’t buy it, and doesn’t understand why he’s allowed to fly under law enforcement radar, time and time again.
“It’s very disheartening to me. I decided I’ll sacrifice my pride; I got bamboozled by him,” O’Brien said. “I just think he needs to be stopped before he hurts somebody else. I just hate to see people get scammed, and I’m willing to sacrifice myself if we can get some justice.”