For more than a decade, Rick and Gary Franklin have been accused of scams that cost people thousands of dollars.
They formerly ran Wayne’s Tree Service out of South Bend, which had its license revoked amid a police investigation before being permanently banned from operating in the city in August 2011.
And, the Franklin brothers are both convicted felons.
49-year-old Gary was no stranger to NewsCenter 16’s cameras back in the 1990s, when he was constantly in and out of court for ripping off St. Joseph County residents.
In October 1994, Gary scammed elderly woman Marvel Shoe out of nearly $3,000 for a tree removal he never did.
Not long after bonding out of jail, Franklin was slapped with a separate, but similar theft charge. He was supposed to fertilize an elderly woman’s lawn and take down a tree – jobs police say he never did but got paid twice for.
“What he did was come back and tell her he lost the first check for $500 and she wrote another check without stopping the payment and he ended up cashing both checks,” South Bend Police Officer Tim Medich told NewsCenter 16 in February of 1995.
Gary also pleaded guilty to one of the biggest home improvement scams in county history. According to NewsCenter 16 archives, he pleaded guilty and was convicted of swindling an elderly woman out of nearly half a million dollars.
“Are you sorry for what you did?” a NewsCenter 16 photographer asked Gary in 1995. “Are you?” Gary replied.
It doesn’t appear Gary feels much remorse these days.
And, apparently, neither does his brother Rick – who also has a criminal record.
According to Meade County, Kentucky court documents, Rick pleaded guilty to 42 counts after being arrested for running a stolen property ring from South Bend to Kentucky.
Strikingly similar to what the Franklins are being accused of now.
“I can’t see how these guys can do this to all these people,” said LaPorte resident Harold Wise.
Harold and his son, Corey, say they’ve both had problems with the brothers.
Corey is a convicted felon himself who’s served time for several crimes, including burglary and receiving stolen property.
But, he says once he was released, he vowed to stay out of trouble and decided to rent a garage and house on Prairie Avenue from the brothers to start anew.
Corey says it wasn’t long before he noticed suspicious activity – like Gary offering to sell him brand new tools far below market price.
“I believe all of it was stolen,” Corey said. “I asked him at one point ‘I'm not trying to be nosy or get any of your business, but where do you get this stuff from?’ He specifically said to me ‘Crackheads steal it for me and I buy it for what they need.’”
Corey ended up breaking his lease and moving out in the middle of the night to escape the brothers. But, it wasn’t long before his dad had a run-in with the Franklin’s.
Despite his son’s bad experience with Rick and Gary, Harold wanted to buy the Prairie Avenue garage, hoping to turn it into a new beginning.
“I seen it on Craigslist for sale or land contract,” Harold said. “So, I thought it’d be a nice thing for me and my wife. We could get a little secondhand store to help our income.”
So, Harold traded in his truck for the $2,500 down payment and was promised the paperwork would be finished by the lawyers the following Monday.
Harold never saw the Franklins again.
“I went in thinking you could make deals on a handshake and I guess you can’t do that anymore,” he said.
Other people tell NewsCenter 16 they’ve been victims of the same scam.
Gary Edwards and his partner Al Letson say they entered into a land contract with the brothers for the garage. They got the keys to the property, only to find out other people had also entered into contracts for the same land with the Franklins.
And, realtor Steve Shaffer says he also paid for the property. Before giving the Franklins the complete down payment, he demanded the deed. They produced it and it seemed legitimate, but the realtor says he realized it was a sham when he ran into Harold at the garage, who explained what was going on.
According to St. Joseph County tax records, neither Rick nor Gary owns the Prairie Avenue properties.
But, one man claims the devastation caused by Rick and Gary Franklin isn’t confined to Michiana.
Jason Siveny lives all the way out in Minnesota and bought a trailer the Franklins were selling on eBay.
“Asked him for the VIN number and all of the information, which he gave me,” Siveny said in a phone interview. “What I did was I ran it through the local police here just to make sure it wasn’t stolen.”
After checking to see if the trailer was legal, Siveny says he spent about $1,000 to drive across the country to South Bend to pick it up, handing a $3,900 cashier’s check to the Franklins --- only to have his fears confirmed once he got back home.
“Went snowmobiling one day, came home and there was a St. Louis County sheriff’s deputy at my door, asking if he could come to my house and talk to me about a trailer. And, my first thought was, ‘Oh no, it was stolen.’ Which, it was.”
According to police, the trailer was stolen from Berrien County, Michigan. No charges have been filed in the case.
The claims the Wises and Siveny have made about fraud and the sale of stolen property are ones Rick Franklin says he knows nothing about.
“I would talk to anybody you get,” he told NewsCenter 16. “You get anybody who has a complaint, I’d talk to them. I haven’t heard a word about anything like that. I think if it was something illegal the police would be here with you.”
NewsCenter 16 tried to get Gary’s side of the story, but he wasn’t around to tell it.
“Is there a way we can call him and get in contact with him?” we asked a woman at his house. “I have no information to give you,” she replied.
The victims of the alleged scams say the Franklins are just doing what con artists do best – lying.
“They’re great conmen,” Corey said. “They’ll tell you stuff that is just, they will make it sound true. I mean, if they told you the sky is blue, you better go out and look because that’s how good they are.”
As for the brothers’ tree and landscaping businesses, they were fined $4,000 in December for violating a ban that prohibits them from operating in the city. They were running their business under the name ‘Advance Tree and Landscaping.’
Assistant City Attorney Ann-Carol Nash says since then, the city’s witnessed the Franklins soliciting their services in South Bend again.
So, the city’s taking them back to court.
We’ll tell you more in part two of our series on Thursday, just before six.