Year in jail for handyman fraud artist

Sooke fraudster ordered to pay restitution for victims

A man who committed a string of handyman scams across Greater Victoria will spend another year behind bars.

On Thursday in Victoria provincial court, judge Robert Higinbotham sentenced Glen French to 12 months for each of the 10 counts of fraud under $5,000, to be served concurrently. That’s added to his three months in jail already served, due to his bail being revoked when he fled to Ontario.

Striking a curious image as a 62-year-old with tattoos crawling around his bald head, French sat quietly through the proceedings and said nothing. None of the victims attended court.

Crown prosecutor Jocelyn Byrne described French, a Sooke resident, as a habitual con artist and liar, who entered into professional looking contracts with his victims for home handyman jobs, collected some money up-front, and either didn’t complete the work or ever start the job.

In many cases French used the excuse that his father had died to skip out on work, Byrne said. In one case, French ran into one of his victims at a hardware store in Victoria after claiming he would be out of town at his father’s funeral.

When his customers demanded he finish the work or return the down payment, he often turned viciously aggressive and threatened his victims with lawsuits.

“Every victim who met Mr. French, despite him being covered in tattoos, said he seemed like a very nice guy and people liked him,” Byrne noted.

The scams took place in 2009 and early 2010 in Saanich, Victoria, Esquimalt and the West Shore. Byrne said that many of the victims reported their individual conflicts with French to their local police, but were told it amounted to a civil contract dispute. The Saanich police suspected a pattern of fraud when it started investigating French in 2009.

“In every case people were told it was a civil matter. That’s how he got away with it for so long,” Byrne said. “Thank goodness the Saanich police fraud section … looked at the bigger picture. In all these cases they proved fraud, and that there was no intent to finish the work.”

French had already been convicted of fraud in Edmonton in 2006 and Saskatoon in 1992. The Better Business Bureau in Alberta and Saskatchewan had issued warnings about French regarding his home renovation and snow removal services.

The court also heard that French’s daughter and ex-wife had given statements to police regarding his stream of scams and falsehoods, and had requested a no contact order. He is also estranged from his son.

“At 62 years of age, through his own fault, this man finds himself alone on the planet. His family has disowned him. He only has himself to blame. It’s a sad situation,” said Tom Morino, French’s lawyer. “He understands he is deserving of incarceration.”

“I think the sadness here is for the victims,” Higinbotham retorted. “Each trusted Mr. French and trusted him with funds in advance.

“I commend the constable from the Saanich police for putting this together …  if she hadn’t, this (fraud) would certainly be still going on.”

Const. Karen Phillips with the Saanich police financial crime unit said Const. Jerome Rozitis took complaints about French from a number of people, and was the first to notice a possible pattern of fraud.

“Rozitis felt it was something that needed to be looked at,” Phillips said. “It was surprising, it was quite a number (of victims).”

Phillips said she worked with the Victoria Better Business Bureau to locate people alleging they’d been ripped off by French. Victim statements and evidence was instrumental in establishing the larger, indisputable pattern of wrongdoing, she said.

“Most of the people did their due diligence and checked references. Sometimes that can fall through the cracks,” Phillips said. “It’s not their fault. It’s good people came forward. This case will help prevent others.”

French will have two years of probation after being released from prison, which includes not being allowed to advertise services as a handyman and not being allowed to run a service business.

Higinbotham also issued a restitution order that French repay his victims, although its unlikely French will have the means to do so.

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