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Landscaper charged with defrauding 16 homeowners in Twinsburg

Posted at 4:04 PM, Jul 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-18 17:10:49-04

Twinsburg police detectives arrested a landscaper with a seedy history on Tuesday after he allegedly defrauded 16 homeowners out of more than $100,000, according to police.

Emil Katrinak, 52, faces theft, fraud and engaging in a pattern of corrupt criminal activity for allegedly accepting money for landscaping services that he either did not complete or never started.

Katrinak has prior fraud-related convictions. In 2009, he was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding an elderly man out of his life savings as part of a property development scam. Katrinak also currently faces charges in Twinsburg and two other Northeast Ohio cities for writing bad checks.

In late 2017 and early 2018, Twinsburg City Hall was flooded with complaints from homeowners who claimed Katrinak had not completed landscaping services in the newly-built subdivisions of Fox Hollow and Hunter's Ridge. In some cases, Katrinak and his company, KAT Landscaping, had not even started construction even after homeowners had provided a down payment.

Detective Brian Donato quickly discovered a pattern.

"KAT Landscaping did not complete any one of the contracts that they entered into," Det. Donato said.

Over the next several months, Det. Donato began to establish a paper trail, acquiring bank records, contracts and credit card receipts. The contracts for Katrinak's services included new yard installations and patio work.

The total amount of the fraud scheme totaled $117,000, Det. Donato said. 

Homeowners said Katrinak targeted the two subdivisions because the homes in the neighborhoods were all in need of grass and other landscaping. Homeowners said Katrinak would offer large discounts on services, because he already had jobs lined up in the neighborhood. He was also charismatic and had great salesmanship, his alleged victims said.

"From the moment I met him I knew he was a con-artist. I didn’t trust him," Staci Divita said. "We actually hired a different landscaper. However, he came back a second time and lowered his price by way more money than we could say no to."

Then the excuses started.

"His equipment would break or there would be excuses like his kid was hit in the parking lot, which we later found out not to be true," Divita said. "Every day there was a different excuse. It was an absolute disaster."

Katrinak would cease all communications when homeowners would begin to hound him for refunds.

"You’re almost at his mercy because you don’t want to piss him off. There’s always that hope that you’ll get the money back. That's what happened," Keith Jackson said. Katrinak still owes Jackson $2,300 for a fence project that was not completed, Jackson said.

As if the allegations of incomplete work and missing refunds weren't enough, a couple of homeowners had to deal with liens that were placed upon their properties by Katrinak's company and the landscaping material suppliers. Katrinak would dump large quantities of material onto people's property but then use that material on other projects, police said. Then, once the contracts went sour, the landscaping supply companies would place liens on the property where the material was dumped.

Additionally, Katrinak would allegedly place liens on his former customers' properties, oftentimes at values that were higher than the original contract amount.

"We have not only a lien from his company for about $9,000, but we also have a lien from the supply company that he was working with," Divita said. "We’ve come to find out he wasn’t paying the supply company."

Many of the homeowners have had to hire other contractors to rip out what Katrinak completed and start over. Despite the financial burden and headaches, Divita said the saga has helped the neighborhood grow closer.

"This street of only 26 homes, we’ve truly come together as a community and as a family," Divita said. "Whether we like it or not, he’s been part of the reason we’ve bonded together. We’ve gotten so close."

Katrinak is also facing additional felony charges for passing two fraudulent checks at a bank in Cleveland, authorities said. He is being held on a $100,000 bond.