Suspected Con Artist Scams Local Couple, Problem Solvers Uncover More Victims

PLAINWELL, Mich. (April 29, 2014) — Darlene Kohn said she’s been scammed out of $1,500.

Now she’s waiting for a refund from a chimney company that didn’t do the work it contracted for.

Kohn says she loves a good fire on cold winter nights in her Allegan County home. But she can’t use her fireplace, because the chimney is structurally unsafe. “You can see bricks have come off,” she said, pointed out the damage. “There’s bricks falling off the outside here.”

Darlene and her husband Tom wanted their chimney fixed before winter, and a number of ads and coupons in the newspaper for chimney repair had already caught their attention. So they called the company “Chimnee Cricket.” (This is how the local company spells its name)

The Kohns said they interacted with Christopher Cerrito. “My husband was really impressed with him,” she said.

“When we contacted this guy, he came and gave us a beautiful presentation,” Darlene said. “My husband said he counted bricks. He talked about how he was going to seal this and what he was going to do, spelled it all out.”

The Kohns hired Cerrito on the spot and signed a contract. She showed the contract to FOX 17. It was dated September 12, 2013. It would be a $2,700 job.

“So we gave him $1,500 down,” she said. Cash.

“He said, ‘I’ve got some things to do, but I’ll be back 2 to 3 weeks.’ So we figured he’d be back by the end of September. [He] didn’t show up.”

The weeks turned into months.

“We can’t get hold of him: Either (it) goes to voicemail or it says the voice mailbox is full, trying again. Now we’re starting to worry.”

The Kohns feel they got conned. “The invoice doesn’t have an address on it. We didn’t realize it didn’t have an address on it.”

In November, Kohn complained about Cerrito to what she thought was the franchise headquarters in Florida. She said she wrote a complaint on chimneycricket.com, which is featured on Cerrito’s advertisement above “Chimnee Cricket.”

Kohn said she inquired about his whereabouts. “The very next day we get a phone call from the guy saying, ‘You got to get that off that website! You can’t be making complaints like that.”

“My husband’s going, ‘Yeah we can. you didn’t do the work.”

Darlene says she spoke with a deputy at the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department for help. The deputy said he needs Cerrito’s date of birth in order to press charges. However, that deputy left Cerrito a message not long ago, and for the first time in five months, Kohn heard from the man who took her money.

“Hey Mr. and Mrs. Kohn. Chris Cerrito, Chimnee Cricket. How are you?” Cerrito said on a voicemail message. “I want to get this money to you immediately. You know, possibly even today.”

However, Cerrito never came through.

“My husband goes, my wife’s gonna talk to FOX 17. [Cerrito] goes, ‘Oh no, don’t do that!” Darlene laughed.

The current phone number for Cerrito and Chimnee Cricket pop up with an address in Lansing. FOX 17 made the drive to check it out. It turns out to be the AT&T building, and besides AT&T, there are no other businesses inside. Employees said mail for Chimnee Cricket comes to the building, but they either throw it away or return to sender.

A Lansing home was a second address listed, but nobody was there.

So we decided to give Christopher Cerrito of Chimnee Cricket a call.

Cerrito told us that he told the Kohn’s it was too cold outside during the winter to do chimney repair. But he couldn’t explain to us why he decided to hold onto their money for seven months now.

He said an agreement has been worked out, and that he will get the $1,500 to the Kohn’s by Friday. Mr. Kohn said the Friday delivery is news to him, and the couple isn’t buying it.

But they hold onto some hope.

Meanwhile, the FOX 17 Problem Solvers did even more digging. We called the company headquarters in Florida. A representative at Chimney Cricket (different spelling) told FOX 17 that they have nothing to do with Christopher Cerrito, but they have heard of him.

He’s been doing business with their name under a different spelling and uses their website on his ads.

A quick Google search of his name shows his Facebook page coming back to Troy, Mich., in Metro Detroit.

FOX 17 also found a complaint on the website ripoffreport.com. Here is a sample of comments about Chimnee Cricket:

  • “He gained my trust by repairing my chimney.”
  • “I contracted with him for a new roof and paid a deposit of four-thousand dollars for materials.”
  • “He never came back.”
  • “I’m a 72-year-old widowed senior citizen on a fixed income.”
  • “Be assured that if he’ll victimize me, he’ll scam anyone.”

“When you lie to me,” Darlene said, “and you walk away with my money, and you keep lying to me, you break the trust.”

The Kohns said they were advised not to accept a partial payment from Cerrito, because that would void the chance for criminal charges.

Their hope is that their story warns others to beware.

We’ll let you know if and when Cerrito refunds their money.

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