Crooks promise blacktop, bail with cash

Ionia County investigator says scammers often target older people

John and Ruth Polhamus, Blacktop Paving
John and Ruth Polhamus of the Lyons area said they were scammed by a company calling itself Blacktop Paving.

LYONS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Korean War veteran and his wife are putting out a warning after losing thousands of dollars to a scam targeting West Michigan residents.

John Polhamus, 84, and his wife Ruth, 87, live outside of Lyons in Ionia County. The retired great-grandparents have spent the past eight months searching for answers after getting conned.

“He was fast-talking, that’s what he was,” Ruth Polhamus said of the man who ripped them off.

John Polahmus, Ruth Polhamus
Ruth and John Polhamus.

In September 2016, a company going by the name of Blacktop Paving pulled into their driveway off Divine Highway and offered to blacktop it at a discounted rate. The company had business cards and glossy flyers claiming to be a local company based in Ionia.

“With the pictures he showed us, it would be a flat blacktop,” John Polhamus said.

Based on the measurements the man took, the couple believed the job would cost them between $400 and $500. But when the job was nearly done, the man came to the door with a bill for $9,440.

“I said, ‘Are you sure it’s $9,000 or $900?'” John Polhamus recalled. “He said, ‘Nope, its $9,000.’ He says, ‘We got to go right to your bank and get it.’ He says, ‘I want cash.'”

“I couldn’t believe it. That’s a lot of money,” Ruth Polhamus said.

The contractor followed as the Polhamuses drove to their bank in Grand Ledge and waited as they withdrew $9,000 in cash.

“The lady at the bank, we’ve been to her before. She said, ‘I’d watch that.’ You know, them wanting cash. She said that’s unusual,” Ruth Polhamus said.

But the couple paid the contractor and he drove off. When they got home, they found the crews were gone. The driveway wasn’t smooth blacktop — it was just dark-colored gravel.

John and Ruth Polhamus, Blacktop Paving
John and Ruth Polhamus of the Lyons area said they were scammed by a company calling itself Blacktop Paving.

“I called him right away and I couldn’t get him. And I’ve been calling right along, and I still, you can’t get him,” John Polhamus said.

He eventually filed a report with the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office. Detectives got a warrant for the company’s phone records.

“TracFone says it was registered to a John Young in Georgia, fictitious name at 12345 Go Phone Way, I think it was. Very obviously fraudulent,” Detective Sgt. Phillip Hesche said. “There is no indication at all they are local.”

Hesche said similar scams are common in the summer months and seniors are often the targets.

“Unfortunately, they pick the people that they think will be the most susceptible to doing it, and a lot of times those are older folks,” he said.

He warns of fast-talking salesmen who show up out of the blue. That’s exactly the type of con run by Blacktop Paving.

“They were so quick. I mean, they were here before you could say, ‘No, I don’t want it,'” Ruth Polhamus said. “I think that they figured we were old, and ‘they’re suckers and we can take ’em,'” she said.

The couple told Target 8 they never considered not paying the $9,000, even though they thought the price was high.

“They were still working on it,” John Polhamus said. “We just never thought about it. I don’t know why. We should have. I think we should have.”

He would still like the company to come do the job right but knows that is unlikely to happen.

Detective Hesche would also like to find the scammers but is pretty sure they have left the area.

“I don’t want these people victimizing our people. I’d do anything to be able to catch these guys and make sure they don’t jam somebody else up,” Hesche said.

He wants people to report similar scams as quickly as possible, giving police a better chance to catch the crooks before they move on.

“The driveway scammers, they’re going for cash. They’re looking to supposedly do a job just to get somebody to pay on pressure,” Hesche said. “You’re talking about making an investment of thousands of dollars, you’ve got to know who you are doing business with.”