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Contractor Bilked Queens Homeowners Out of $537K: DA Brown Says

Long Island man allegedly took thousands of dollars from borough residents, but failed to complete renovations to their homes.

A 59-year-old Long Island man has been accused of bilking six Queens residents, who paid the defendant more than $500,000 to make repairs to their homes, the Queens district attorney said.

Wayne T. Drinkwine, 59, of St. James, L.I., was arraigned Aug. 19 before Queens Criminal Court Judge Gene Lopez on charges of grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and criminal mischief, Queens DA Richard Brown said.

He had been indicted on similar charges the day before by a Queens Supreme Court grand jury, but more counts were then added. The case will be tried in the Supreme Court, a DA spokesman said.

The defendant, who also goes by the name Duke Russo, could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, the DA said.

“The victims in this case, it is alleged, hired the defendant in some instances more than three years ago and paid him considerable amounts of money to remodel their residences,” Brown said. “Instead, it is alleged that he began demolition work on their properties and then took the money and ran.”

The defendant is alleged to have been paid a total $537,000 by six homeowners for renovations. But he allegedly failed to begin work on the homes or put the payments into a designated contractor’s escrow account as required by law, the DA said.

In one instant, a Springfield Gardens homeowner signed a $50,000 contract with the defendant for a remodeling of her home and the addition of an extension, according to the criminal complaint.

The victim is alleged to have made a partial payment of $15,000 in the form of checks made out to Domcan Development, which lists Drinkwine’s home address as its office address.

Another homeowner from South Ozone Park retained Drinkwine to remodel his property as well as add new air conditioning, windows, electrical, a roof, siding and a kitchen.

The defendant was allegedly paid $103,143 of the $118,500 contract, the DA said.

Four other Queens residents allegedly paid Drinkwine for more than $419,000 in home improvements, according to the criminal complaint.

In all six instances, Drinkwine allegedly began demolition work but failed to return to the sites, despite requests by the homeowners, the DA said. He is also accused of failing to return their payments.

“This defendant billed himself as a bona fide home improvement contractor,” said Rose Gill Hearn, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation. “But, according to the indictment, he was nothing more than a con artist who bilked unsuspecting homeowners out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and left their homes in disrepair.”

The defendant will return to court on Oct. 31.

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