SAN DIEGO – A man accused posing as a contractor to ripping off dozens of unsuspecting clients has pleaded not guilty to charges including identity theft and fraud.
It’s a story FOX 5 first reported in October, after a viewer contacted us about a man posing as a contractor who allegedly ripped off thousands of dollars from people who hired him for construction jobs. After the story aired, several other victims came forward. With this information the District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation and arrested Lionel Cervantes. On Thursday, Cervantes faced a judge for the first time.
“Your honor, this is a case involving a husband-and-wife duo who have committed crimes,” Deputy District Attorney Jeanie Cetlinski told the judge.
Cervantes along with his wife, Elizabeth, face several charges ranging from grand theft, burglary, and impersonation along with fraud.
“Charges of fraud related conduct, false pretenses, obtaining personal identification of another person with the intent to defraud, diversion of construction funds, attempted extortion, fraudulent use of a contractors license of another, false impersonation, and residential an occupied residence,” Cetlinski said in court.
Prosecutors say the husband-wife duo would get hired agree to do construction jobs, then ask for payment in advance and disappear. Cervantes and his wife pleaded not guilty.
Among the victims names listed in court documents is 61-year-old Kefah Dammon. She spoke to FOX 5 News in October. She told us how she hired Cervantes to build her dream backyard. What she didn’t know was that he was using another contractor’s license, and then after just a few days of work, he disappeared with the $5,000 advance that she had paid him.
“He’s supposed to put concrete here. He didn’t put anything. And he’s supposed to dig to that point … and put here concrete. He didn’t do that,” Damman said.
Atilano Marquez owns and operates Atila Construction. He is also listed among the victims in District Attorney’s case. He said Cervantes used his name and business license to scam customers.
“He has been ripping off people using my business name and my first name and last name, so he’s writing contracts and he’s scamming people from their deposits,” Marquez said.
TMarquez and Dammon both say they’re grateful Cervantes is behind bars.
“It’s just crazy that this person just comes in like it’s so easy to get somebody’s contractor’s number, get my name, last name and start doing business,” Marquez said.
“We believe that there are many other victims aside from the ones that I spoke about or referenced in the courtroom, and we are encouraging the people to come forward and contact the District Attorney’s Office … so that their concerns can be addressed.” Cetlinski said.
Cervantes is scheduled to appear in court again on Dec. 28. He faces up to 13 years and 8 months if he’s convicted of all charges.
If you believe you are a victim of Lionel Cervantes, you’re asked to call the San Diego District Attorney’s Office at 800-315-7672.