According to KRQE news in Albuquerque, New Mexico, landscaper Gary Mares was busted for fraud once again. This time, he solicited landscaping work on Craigslist, collected large sums of money for the jobs upfront, and then never performed the work. Previously, he was working as a landscaping subcontractor for a legitimate company, Milligan Scapes. According to the criminal complaint, when Mares was assigned a job by Milligan Scapes, he would ask customers to write out a check in his own name to pay for half of the job up front, and then never returned to actually do the work.
This case is interesting to us because Mares had a trail of bad press about him on the internet, yet he still managed to find people to swindle. We searched Mares’ name on the internet, and, apart from the articles about his arrest from the past few days, we saw that he was on a 2005 list of New Mexico’s Top 10 Unlicensed Contractors, and that, at that time, he owed up to $125,000 in damage claims. We also found a 2010 blogpost written by Mares regarding his prison time in which he talks about having gambled with other people’s money to help climb out of his own debts.
Evidence of a criminal record should not necessarily dissuade a person from engaging someone as their landscaper, but we certainly advocate at least searching someone’s name on the internet before hiring them, especially off of Craigslist. If you’re dealing with either moderate to high dollar values or any sort of prolonged relationship, we would also recommend hiring an investigation firm to take a deeper look at the person because, as we blogged about here, so many records do not come up in a Google search. Spending a few thousand dollars on a background check to save you from losing much more down the road is worth it.
In this case, a quick internet search would have probably done the trick. The victims may have still hired Mares. But the knowledge of the unlicensed contractors list and a prison sentence for swindling people out of money might have prevented them from paying such a hefty sum for the job up front, before Mares even did any work.