ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Mary was a new homeowner looking for some help turning her backyard from a mess into a true place to hang out.
That woman, who asked KRQE News 13 not to use her real name for this story, found Mountain View Landscaping on Craigslist in June. She called the company and spoke to contractor Gary Mares. Two days later, she said Mares checked out the job and gave her an estimate.
“He came out, measured, drew up a plan,” Mary said.
She said Mares estimated the job would cost $1900 and got her to write him a check for $950 up front. That’s when the woman said the excuses started, but the work never did.
“When I Googled his name I found the report that you guys did on him,” Mary told News 13.
In April, KRQE News 13 told you about the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office investigation into Mares and the contractor’s criminal past.
It all stems from Mares’ time working as a subcontractor for a legitimate company, Milligan Scapes. According to victims and a criminal complaint, when Mares was assigned jobs by that firm he would ask customers to pay him half of the estimated cost of the job up front, asking them to make out the check in his name instead of the company’s. Victims say he never did the work, leaving them holding the bag.
BCSO detective Russell Telles told News 13 in April that 13 victims had come forward and that he had enough then to make an arrest.
“If I was to stop now and there were no other customers out there, yeah I would have enough,” Telles said. “But again, I don’t want to leave anyone out of it.”
Although the investigation was opened in March, it took until Monday for the arrest to be made. Mares was booked into MDC on embezzlement and fraud charges. Those charges presently carry a maximum penalty of 10 and a half years in prison.
During that time period, Mares was operating under Mountain View Landscaping and Mary says she fell for the scam.
“This shouldn’t have happened and he should’ve been in jail before this happened,” Mary said.
So why wasn’t he?
BCSO spokesperson Aaron Williamson told News 13 the department was waiting for an audit conducted by Milligan Scapes to wrap up to ensure that the investigation was complete.
Williamson also said the DA Kari Brandenburg office advised them to hold off on filing charges until the case was more fully fleshed out. DA’s spokesperson Kayla Anderson said Monday evening she could not confirm that claim in time for this story.
Meanwhile one of Mares’ alleged victims, Melanie Hubka, told News 13 she’s thrilled Mares is behind bars.
“It’s about time he’s been caught and arrested,” Hubka said. “Hopefully this time he’ll be in jail for a good long time.”
Milligan Scapes was a victim in this case as well. The company did the work Mares promised, even though he pocketed some of the money.