When a fire destroyed Charlene Mills’s home and all her possessions in February, she felt it was a “blessing” she could move into a rental house she owned in Dartmouth, N.S. — it just needed a little work.
But that blessing would soon become a curse, Mills said, after she posted an ad on Kijiji looking for a contractor and hired Robert Allan Monk.
Monk agreed to do a variety of general contracting work for Mills, including priming and painting each room, replacing the kitchen ceiling, painting the kitchen cabinets — all within one week.
When she inspected the work three weeks later, Mills said she was horrified to find cigarette butts everywhere — stubbed out on top of her refrigerator, on the stove and covering her draperies, which were, for some reason, dumped into the bathtub, along with the window blinds.
“We have no ceiling,” Mills said. “It’s atrocious the state that he left the property in.”
What Mills and her partner didn’t know at the time was that Monk, 50, had three previous fraud convictions, and was forbidden from using online ad services such as Kijiji and Facebook to find clients, an order he’s accused of ignoring.
Mills is one of several people who told CBC that Monk took their money for contractor jobs that were never completed.
Earlier this month, Halifax police announced two dozen new charges against Monk, including eight fraud-related offences. The 50-year-old is accused of taking money from customers but not doing the work. He has not yet entered a plea on the charges.
His most recent fraud conviction was on June 27, 2018. He received a suspended sentence, 18 months’ probation and was ordered to pay restitution of $6,210. On Dec. 13, Monk was sentenced to 15 days in custody for not paying the restitution.
When reached for comment, Monk said, on “the advice of counsel, I have no comment at this time.”
Familiar pattern emerges
Six days after fire destroyed her house, Mills posted on Kijiji looking for a general contractor. She and her partner wanted the work on the Dartmouth house done as quickly as possible, as they were living in a hotel.
She said she and her partner showed a number of contractors through the property, but ultimately decided on Monk’s services, since he was confident he could do the work on the fastest timeline.
When Mills asked Monk for references, he gave the name of someone he said was his landlord and two people for whom he said he did snow clearing. Mills countered by asking for references related to his contracting work. When those two people didn’t call her back, she said Monk sent her pictures of work he said he had previously done, and told Mills “a reference is a reference.”
“In retrospect … that should have been a red flag for us,” said Mills.
Given that Mills and her partner were busy dealing with the fallout from their devastating fire, they weren’t around to micromanage the work at their rental property.
Mills said they started to pay closer attention when the one-week job dragged on for two, then three weeks. They would drive by when Monk said he was working on the property, but there would be no one there.
When they finally checked their property, Mills said she was shocked at the state of it.
She ended up taking Monk to small claims court and won a judgment for nearly $3,000 — the amount she had given Monk. Given what she’s learned about him, she doesn’t think she’ll ever see her money.
Staircase left open to 4½-metre drop for months
Christine Gibbons hired Monk in January to do some work on the staircase of her Hammonds Plains, N.S., home after he contacted her mother on Facebook, answering a post looking for work on another job. Gibbons sent him $8,000 via an e-transfer, half the amount agreed upon for the project.
“I kind of liked the idea of giving money to the little guy … [he] seemed to know what he was talking about,” Gibbons said. “He asked for half of the money up front and then continued to ask for more.”
Gibbons said Monk would often fail to show up, or the work he did do was done poorly. She said he and his crew came and ripped out the railings on the stairs, leaving a 4½-metre drop open to the floor below.
“We have three kids, we have two very large dogs … and so we had communicated multiple times that we can’t have this completely open for too long, and [there was] just no sense of urgency at all to do anything about it,” said Gibbons.
She said there were red flags throughout the process, but Monk always had an excuse, such as that his dog was sick, he wasn’t feeling well or there was an emergency on another job.
After six months, Gibbons said she and her husband decided to cut their losses and cut Monk loose.
“I was literally losing sleep. I couldn’t eat. It was horrible,” said Gibbons.
That’s when she went online and did a search. She found multiple posts from others who had run-ins with Monk.
Family members eventually pitched in and finished the job.
A roof left open
Greg Lapierre hired Robert Monk in June to renovate his garage near New Ross, N.S. He wanted to replace the siding and the aging roof with a metal one. Lapierre called Monk’s references, who said he “was a great guy” to work with.
Lapierre said he paid Monk nearly $14,000. A crew ripped off half the roof and left it open to the elements. After some prodding, Lapierre said Monk’s crew returned and strung up a cheap tarp to cover tar paper that kept peeling up, but it wasn’t enough.
“I mean, … [the garage is] 40 to 50 years old and it’s never seen water inside at all, until now,” said Lapierre.
He said when he confronted Monk about getting his money back, Monk claimed he had no money to give.
In June, Montana Piñyero moved with her husband and daughter to Nova Scotia. The business she had run for 20 years in Texas went under due to COVID-19 and she decided it was time for a change back in her home country.
They decided to start LaHave Regenerative Farm in Lower Branch, outside of Bridgewater, N.S., and raise chickens, goats, geese and kunekune pigs.
She needed a fence to contain her growing flocks and herds and hired Monk to do the job, after he responded to her post on Kijiji.
She said Monk asked for 25 per cent of the project cost up front — $1,375 to be sent via e-transfer. Piñyero said the crew Monk sent out didn’t even bring their own tools, and ended up breaking the auger she had purchased and had already used to drill 100 post holes without issue. That night, Monk called her and asked for another 25 per cent deposit.
She refused and that was the last time she spoke to him. Like the others CBC spoke with, she doesn’t think she’ll see her money.
“I don’t want him to do this to more people. I don’t want other people to go through what we went through,” said Piñyero.
It’s not just those looking for work to be done on their houses who say Monk has had an impact. A Nova Scotia man with the same name said he’s been mistaken for Robert Allan Monk for more than a decade.
“I run a couple legitimate businesses and meeting … new people, there is the piece of info I always need to sneak into the conversation: ‘If you Google my name, there is a scammer out there with the same name,'” said Rob Monk, 34, who works as a real estate developer.
“I have countless stories about angry people calling me, thinking I was him.”
Rob Monk said his father, also named Robert Monk, is “completely beside himself with embarrassment,” and would like to have their names cleared.
Others have assumed the contractor Robert Monk is linked to Monk Renovations, which is run by Dan Monk, even though there’s no affiliation.
What you can do to prevent fraud
Sue Labine, who is with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said there’s been an increase in fraud as more things move online because of COVID-19.
She has some advice for people to reduce the chance of being defrauded online:
- Google the contractor’s name and read reviews from other customers. Don’t rely on references supplied by the person you’re hiring.
- Hire someone who’s had dealings with someone you know and trust.
- Get multiple estimates. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
- Be wary of anyone asking for money up front for materials. Instead, purchase the materials for the job yourself.
- If a contractor has no history online, that may be a “red flag,” said Labine, and could indicate the person or company is changing names to outrun a bad reputation.
- Request information in writing.
- Always read the fine print.
Police would not say whether more charges against Monk are anticipated. He is next scheduled back in court Jan. 21.