Indiana contractor arrested, accused of fraud

Luna Ruth

The sheriff’s office said this is a cautionary tale, warning homeowners to check a contractor’s license and insurance before hiring.

RUSH COUNTY, Ind. — A Rush County contractor is facing felony charges after being accused of defrauding families out of tens of thousands of dollars. The sheriff’s office tells 13 Investigates deputies are still interviewing other potential victims.

The Rush County Sheriff’s Office obtained a warrant to arrest Warren Stephen of Rushville last month for multiple counts of felony theft and a misdemeanor home improvement fraud charge.

Court documents show Stephen took more than $47,000 from five different clients, but never finished the home contracting jobs they hired him to do.

One of those victims was Vanessa Benagh. She received multiple referrals on Facebook for W. Stephen Affordable Construction.

“I got like five or six recommendations for him and now I realize they were possibly fake,” she said.

She signed two contracts with Stephen in 2020. One was for him to fix her roof and the other was to fix the garage.

“He said he’d do it in two months and I never heard back, and it just kept getting longer and longer,” Benagh said.

She waited about a year then got someone else to fix her property. Then took Stephens to small claims court, where she said a judge suggested she take the issue to the Rush County Sheriff’s Office.

Court documents show the sheriff’s office spoke to six clients who hired Stephen between May 2019 and May 2021. They and Stephen report those projects were never completed. The people all had similar stories. Stephen requested they pay about half of a job estimate upfront. They then had trouble getting in contact with him and the work was never finished.

Stephen told deputies had money issues and a hard time keeping workers because they were “dropping like flies.” That’s why he said he resulted in using down payments from new clients to finish old projects.

A deputy report states he told an investigator, “I’m going to be completely honest with you…, I’m ****** at this point and I know I am.”

The sheriff’s office said this is a cautionary tale, warning homeowners to check a contractor’s license and insurance before hiring. Stephen was not licensed in Indiana and told investigators he let his insurance lapse. The sheriff’s office also encourages people to ask for references, a written contract and to not pay upfront.

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