|Get Business Mobile Text Alerts|
Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
September 1, 2012
Ted Diamond was too fast to get caught last year when customers of his Moodus fencing company say he stole thousands of dollars from them before leaving his business, his family and Connecticut.
Diamond probably wouldn't be sitting in Ventura County jail now, either, if a snail hadn't slid across a fraudlent fencing bid left overnight on a California porch, the mucus trail obscuring his handwritten phone number.
As it is, Diamond faces seven felony charges — two for grand theft and five for obtaining credit by identity theft — and two petty-theft misdemeanors after allegedly using the letterhead of a local fencing company to solicit down payments with unusually low bids. The down payments, at his request, were checks written to him.
Terry Winter lost $475, perhaps the least of the half-dozen or more customers who say they were swindled by Diamond. Her payment was half the cost Diamond quoted her to reface her part of a wrought-iron fence she shares with a neighbor in Moorpark, Calif.
"The neighbor behind me actually had him bid her job," paid him $2,100, and then left a copy of the bid on her porch, says Winter.
Then came nightfall, and the snail.
On the bid sheet, Diamond had crossed-out the cellphone number of the Guardian Fence Co.'s actual owner, and written his own. With Diamond's number smeared by the snail's mucus trail, Winter looked at the letterhead and called the main office.
"It was the weekend," Winter says, "so I left a message and said, 'Hey, I'd like you to bid out the rest of my fence job'."
Guardian Fence Co. did not call back the following Monday (Aug. 13), but Diamond showed up at Winter's house and worked up a bid, and a convincing story.
''[Diamond said] he was going to reface the wrought-iron fencing and do it in the next couple of days," says Winter, "and he was the owner and wrought-iron fencing was his specialty and he's been doing it since he was 16 years old and he has a master's degree in child psychology but fencing is his passion . . . . No."
Two days later, Andre Stikkelman — the actual owner of Guardian Fence Co. — returned Winter's message, saying he could put together a bid on her fence.
"Don't worry," Winter told him, "Teddy already came out Monday."
That's when the snail, the lies and a lot of angry people who lost upward of $10,000 finally caught up with Theodore John Diamond.
Stikkelman, who has owned Guardian Fence for 25 years and runs the family operation in Simi Valley with his wife, Deanna, had known Diamond for maybe five months. For the first two, Stikkelman says, Diamond pestered him for a job after seeing an ad in the local Ventura County Star.
"I wasn't interested," says Stikkelman, "but one day I was in a little bit of a pinch, so I said, 'All right, come over and I'll give you a try'."
When Stikkelman discovered Diamond's scheme, he suddenly found himself trying to salvage his business and reputation.
"People started calling me, saying 'Where's the fence?' And I said, 'What fence? Who are you?' He did this all secretively, behind my back. He made unrealistic deals. And he told them if they wrote [the check] in his name they'd avoid paying taxes. He scammed me pretty good," Stikkelman said.
Readers of The Bottom Line know the story.
In January, TBL followed a complaint by a West Hartford homeowner, Gary Dinowitz, who said Diamond offered a great price for cedar fencing in December before asking for a $2,000 deposit. Dinowitz paid it, saw a work crew the next day dig some holes and remove some old post-and-rail fencing but never saw Diamond or a single cedar-fence panel.
Last summer, a fencing supplier sued Diamond for about $7,000 in unpaid bills. Diamond, an unregistered contractor, was being investigated by the state Department of Consumer Protection and the attorney general's office.
Then he disappeared.
As West Coast victims searched online for information on Diamond, it found the TBL column and, ultimately, Dinowitz.
"I said, 'Thank God for Gary Dinowitz'," says Winter. "If that wasn't out there we wouldn't have known how deep this goes."
"The world is getting smaller," says Dinowitz.
Diamond's world, meanwhile, was shrinking by the minute. When TBL first talked to Stikkelman, he had been rounding up victims and encouraging each to file a police report. The more victims, says Stikkelman, and the more money lost, the more jail time piled up for Diamond. Then, on Aug. 21, Diamond was arrested at a job site.
"If you rip someone off for $500," says Stikkelman, "you're not going to jail. He's way, way above that. This guy is a scumbag beyond scumbags."
Back in Connecticut, more victims await action against Diamond, including Joe Bartucca of East Haddam, who says he gave Diamond a $4,000 down payment on a $6,800 job last December.
"Ted removed my old fence," says Bartucca, "dug half of the holes, put up lines, then answered my calls once in a while to tell me his wife was in the hospital, the fence he ordered was wrong and he had to send it back . . . . and on and on."
Bartucca says he never saw Diamond, or his money, again.
Still, there are no charges pending against Diamond in Connecticut, says Susan Kinsman, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office. That, certainly, could change, particularly if more victims identify themselves.
For now, anyway, Diamond is out of the fencing business.
"I was laughing, well, not laughing because I'm a victim in all this," says Winter. "But I was telling my husband I'd love to see the headline, 'GASTROPOD TAKES DOWN VILLAIN.'"
If you are a victim or have related information, call Linda Oakes of the Consumer Protection unit at the state attorney general's office at 860-808-5400.
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant