Authorities Raid Home of Contractor Accused of Swindling Homeowners
With guns drawn, authorities Wednesday morning staged a large raid at the Albertville home of a contractor accused of taking money without finishing projects.
The action came after multiple homeowners told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that Rick Wooton and Crossroads Remodeling LLC took hundreds of thousand of dollars, but did little or no remodeling work.
“I’m out about $20,000,” said Tony Farnsworth.
He hired Wooton’s firm to build a three season patio for his family to enjoy.
“It’s clear he has taken people’s money and never intended to do the jobs, but use the company as a facade to steal people’s money,” said Farnsworth.
Officers with several agencies arrived with warrants to search Wooton’s property and seize evidence of a suspected crime. Wooton ran Crossroads Remodeling LLC until it shut down recently after nearly 40 families filed reports against the business.
Authorities rounded up files, financial documents, computers, contracts and communications, all to be turned over to Minnesota’s Department of Commerce. Its fraud unit is looking into criminal complaints that say Wooton took at least $600,000 from homeowners.
The probe took on added urgency this week, when Wooton turned to an online auction site to unload high-priced equipment, toys and vehicles, 237 items in all.
Previous to that, Wooton posted ads on other social media sites selling off assets like jet skis, a convertible Corvette and two trucks.
“Maybe he’s trying to do this and get out from under this rock by paying people money back to try and do the right thing, the other half of me is like he’s a career criminal, to me it looks like he’s trying to hide his money before it gets seized,” Farnsworth said of the attempted liquidation.
RELATED: State Revokes License, Imposes Discipline and Hefty Fine Against Crossroads Remodelin
Neighbors and area residents awoke to the sight of the street and sidewalk near Wooton’s home lined with cars just before 10 a.m.
“This morning when I drove by, I saw cars everywhere, all around his house – in front, in back,” said one resident who didn’t want to be identified.
Law enforcement was at the home for more than five hours. One investigator said he was there to “collect some evidence.”
Wooton was not arrested. He was seen briefly entering his home about 9 p.m. and leaving shortly after. Efforts to talk with the attorney representing Crossroads Remodeling LLC were not successful.
Wooton has been convicted of crimes similar to the ones he is accused of now. According to state records, one of the conditions of his release from prison in 2012 is that he not own or run a construction business.
Tips for hiring a contractor
The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has an online list of tips to follow when hiring a contractor, as well as a list of warning signs.
- Ask for a contractor’s license number and contact the department at 651-284-5069 or 1-800-342-5354 to verify the builder is currently licensed, or if they have disciplinary history. This can also be checked online.
- Ask for references and how long the contractor has been in business.
- Check the contractor’s legal history on the state court system’s website.
- Avoid contractors who arrive in an unmarked truck or van.
- Avoid contractors who require full or substantial payment before work begins, or who refuse to provide a written estimate or contract.
- Avoid contractors who show up at the door unsolicited.
Find the complete list online.
* Source: Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry
Wooton oversaw Crossroads Remodeling LLC, which has been under investigation since homeowners came forward to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS last month.
More than 40 alleged victims said they hired Wooton for remodeling jobs that did not start or were not finished. And many say they have now filed police reports.
The homeowners claimed Wooton used money taken from them to fund a lavish lifestyle.
The Department of Commerce said the current estimated loss is $600,000.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found an online auction site set up with the pickup and payment address listed as Wooton’s. There are tractors, trailers and trucks up for bid, with the auction slated to close next week.
The Department of Labor and Industry has cited Wooton for operating without a license in the past, and recently fined him $250,000 for various violations.
Investigators said Wooton was not at his residence Wednesday morning when the raid occurred.
A second search warrant was executed in Mille Lacs County Wednesday. The Department of Commerce said it was at the home of Wooton’s business partner.