In August, a Sandusky detective received complaints from a construction worker and two homeowners who said they were scammed by a contractor. A trail of aliases and fake addresses eventually led police to a man convicted of similar crimes in 2007.
Detectives said they’re now searching for Johnnie Lee Chapman, 57.
Anyone else who suspects they fell victim to the scam should call Sandusky police at 419-627-5899
Chapman’s various scams followed a similar pattern: He would accept a home repair contract through newspaper ads, collect a down payment, hire a freelance construction worker, then give them just enough work to keep them busy while he made off with the cash, Sandusky police Detective David West said.
Construction workers were never paid for their labor, and homeowners were left with half-finished projects and empty wallets.
This past summer, homeowners on Follett Street and Cleveland Road responded to a home repair classified ad printed in the Register, kicking off the investigation, West said.
West tracked down a similar ad in the Toledo Blade, which led him to a Mansfield address at a UPS store. Chapman allegedly paid for a mailbox there using a Charter One checking account. That account eventually led back to another UPS Store mailbox in Birmingham, Ala., West said.
The Alabama store’s manager recalled numerous problems surrounding that mailbox in particular, West said. Several irate customers had stopped by the UPS Store, believing it was an address for Chapman’s “construction company.”
The manager pulled up the mailbox’s records and learned Johnnie Lee Chapman had used his Ohio’s driver’s license to open it, West said.
The three Erie County victims identified Chapman in a photo lineup, confirming he was the man they dealt with, West said.
“There have been problems in Alabama, Georgia and the Cleveland and Toledo areas for similar misdeeds,” West said.
Once detectives nailed down Chapman’s true identity, they found he had pleaded guilty to similar crimes in 2007 in Erie County. That conviction stemmed from a 1999 case handled by Perkins Township, West said.
Chapman served 14 months in prison for the crimes.
“He just hasn’t stopped; he’s been doing the same thing for years,” West said. “He’s getting other people to create bogus checking accounts and writing checks to pay for newspaper ads. By the time the check comes back, he’s got a hook in some new fish.”
West plans to run the case by prosecutors then present it to a grand jury.
And even as Chapman’s identity has now been confirmed, his current whereabouts are unknown, West said. Police did not have a photograph of Chapman available, and his mugshot from the previous conviction was not on file at the county jail.
Anyone else who suspects they fell victim to the scam should call Sandusky police at 419-627-5899.