An Eden Prairie building contractor defrauded more than a dozen suburban homeowners, pocketing nearly $1.2 million in payments for home improvement projects that went unfinished and forcing residents to foot the bill a second time, according to charges filed Monday.
Daniel David Baker, 50, of Lakeville, was the owner and operator of the now-defunct Lifestyle Basements LLC. Throughout 2014 and part of 2015, 14 homeowners hired Baker for home improvement projects, paying him between $56,000 and $121,000 to do several months worth of work on their homes, according to the criminal complaint.
Baker promised his clients their payments would cover materials for the job and any outsourcing to subcontractors, they told police. Often, the projects would begin on schedule before experiencing delays or coming to an outright halt. Baker would sometimes blame delays on the availability of labor or materials. Customers later learned it was because Baker had run out of funds to complete the work after diverting their money elsewhere, according to court documents.
Baker was charged in Hennepin County District Court on Monday with 14 counts of theft by swindle and 14 counts of nonpayment for improvement. All are felonies.
Records show his contractor license was revoked in April of 2015 and he filed bankruptcy for the Eden Prairie-based business a few months later. Calls to Baker and his attorney, John Lamey, were not immediately returned.
Subcontractors were also left in the dark, unpaid for services rendered on dozens of jobs. Many filed liens against the property owners after Baker said he was waiting on them to remit their payments. As a result, nearly all of the homeowners were forced to compensate vendors and finish the project themselves, “in effect, paying twice for the same work,” according to the complaint.
Ultimate Drywall Inc., a family business based in Blaine, racked up $219,000 in unpaid invoices for drywall and painting maintenance on jobs Baker commissioned during the course of 2014, owners said. They never saw a penny from him or his clients.
At first, Baker was prompt paying his regular bills for the two to four basements they finished per week, but those payments eventually trickled down to nothing, family members said.
“We trusted what he was saying, and I guess that’s our mistake,” said co-owner Jason Peterson. “He started stringing us along, telling us all this money was coming in, and it just never came around. Things just kinda went downhill after that.”
Ultimate Drywall sent liens to homeowners after Baker insisted that the bills fell squarely with them, Peterson said, but those liens were voided by attorneys who said the residents paid Baker upfront for all expenses.
The company absorbed the hit, but is hoping to receive some restitution from the cases. They may even file their own suit, however any civil litigation would not affect pending criminal charges, said Hennepin County attorney spokesman Chuck Laszewski.
It remains unclear what Baker did with the funds he collected that were not redirected to other business expenses. Investigators found that Baker had “co-mingled” all his accounts, “making it difficult to see where all the money was coming in from and where it was flying out to,” Laszewski said.
In addition to property owners, at least three subcontractors were forced to swallow more than $50,000 in unpaid work.
“Make sure you’re covered before you go into these projects,” Peterson said. “It doesn’t take very long to get behind like this with these contractors not paying. Next thing you know, they’re out of business and you’re stuck holding the bag.”
Baker will make his first appearance in court at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 13.