Conman leaves trail of misery through suburbs
Carlos Martinez....The first public evidence of his scams appears to be an entry on an internet forum. Photo: Supplied
IN ONE of Melbourne's outer northern suburbs, a young couple are packing up their belongings and preparing to move house.
Months of harassment - death threats, break-ins, men hiding in their garden, dead rats left in their letterbox - have traumatised them and their two small children and forced them from the home they love.
We called the carpenter who made the kitchen and asked him to come to install panels. Carl was very angry and insisted he paid for the panels already until I asked him to show a receipt. He never did.
''We got married living here, had our babies living here, and one day we wanted to buy this house. We love this street and this area,'' the man says as his tearful wife shakes her head. ''And he has destroyed all that.''
Simple methods...Carlos Martinez. Photo: Peter Cox
The ''he'' is Carlos Dario Martinez - also known as Carl Martinez, Mark Kelly, Charlie Martin or Dario Martinez - and the young family is only one of the many victims he has left in his wake.
It is hard to ascertain how many people Martinez has ripped off, but Fairfax Media has spoken to at least a dozen who have fallen prey in the past 12 months, losing a combined total well in excess of $100,000.
The first public evidence of his scams appears to be an entry on an internet forum from March 2011, which generated a flood of angry posts from other victims, including one person who claims to have lost $50,000. With this in mind, it is possible Martinez's victims could run into the dozens, and the money he has stolen could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While the damage Martinez has wrought on his victims' lives is significant, his methods are simple, tried and true. Using a variety of tactics - websites where tradesmen advertise, word of mouth, spontaneous approaches in the street - he finds potential customers for tiling and kitchen installation.
Galina Likhovetsky made contact with Martinez through a website last May, and asked him to do tiling in her kitchen. Over the next few days, Martinez suggested other work Mrs Likhovetsky should get done, and said he could organise it for a competitive price.
Mrs Likhovetsky and her husband agreed, and over a period of months paid deposits for jobs including a pergola, a room division, a carport, plumbing, drain repairs, rewiring and painting. Then in August, Martinez went to the Likhovetsky's Hampton East house in tears.
''He told us a very sad story about his mother being very ill; she is in Argentina all alone,'' Mrs Likhovetsky says.
''She has difficulty coming to Australia because she had been here once and overstayed her visa. She has now an opportunity to come here temporarily on humanitarian grounds, but she needs to pay $3500, but it should be done immediately because somebody who is helping her there is leaving for a holiday and it would be too late when he comes back.''
Martinez asked Mr and Mrs Likhovetsky to lend him the money for his mother's visa, which they did, despite their mounting concerns about the rocketing price and slow progress of the work on their house.
Over the next few months, work slowed almost to a halt and Martinez became more evasive. The Likhovetskys began ringing the other tradesmen supposedly working on the house, and found some of them had not been paid by Martinez.
''We called the carpenter who made the kitchen and asked him to come to install panels. Carl was very angry and insisted he paid for the panels already until I asked him to show a receipt. He never did,'' Mrs Likhovetsky says.
Finally, the Likhovetskys looked Martinez up on the internet and found the forum listing complaints from his alleged victims. They rang him and he promised to finish their kitchen and repay the loan, but that was the last time they heard from him. They lost up to $40,000.
The Likhovetskys' story tallies with those of others Fairfax Media spoke to from suburbs across Melbourne. But as Martinez was taking money from householders, tradesmen to whom he subcontracted jobs were also being ripped off.
Electrician James Rickey was in his van at a local shop in July when Martinez approached and offered him work at the Likhovetskys' house, and on another job in Brunswick.
Months later, after a litany of excuses from Martinez, Mr Rickey was forced to accept he would never be paid the $12,000 he was owed for the work. ''It does make you feel a bit silly, '' Mr Rickey says. ''The red flags should have gone up.''
Other tradesmen are less sanguine. A western suburbs stonemason says he prays to God every day that he finds Martinez, and that when he does, ''something very bad will happen to him''.
Another tradesman says his tools were stolen by angry electricians who believed he, rather then Martinez, had dudded them over a renovation job. The tradesman, who hired Martinez to work on the house, says he lost almost $23,000.
Martinez is reportedly charming and convincing and has an extraordinary ability to generate pity. Victims say they feel embarrassed by the ease with which they were taken in.
''Don't use my name, please. I deal with budgets at work, and I don't need people to know about this,'' says one, who describes himself as ''normally hard-headed and cynical''.
Many of his victims say he told them his father has died of cancer and that his financial problems come from having to pay for the funeral. He told others he himself was sick, and that he didn't answer phone calls because he was in hospital.
''Knowing everything you know about him now, you could meet him tomorrow and he would still con money out of you,'' says Adrian, who worked for Martinez for 10 months, is owed $5000 in wages and, like other victims, does not want his surname used.
Adrian was put in touch with Martinez by a western suburbs job agency contracted by the federal government to find work for people on the dole. Martinez promised him $150 a day, but usually paid him late, and less than he owed him, before finally disappearing.
As well as his natural ability to charm, Martinez uses false addresses, multiple phone numbers, and apparently faked invoices and receipts.
Victims have criss-crossed Melbourne trying to hunt him down at various houses, including the one occupied by the traumatised young family at the start of this story.
Judging by their description of some of the people looking for Martinez, suburban home owners and angry tradesmen are the least of his problems. They were told outlaw motorcycle gang members are looking for the fugitive shyster.
Victims believe Martinez's sister knows where is, but Fairfax Media has chosen not to name her because this has not been proven. Until recently, her brother lived 100 metres from her western suburbs house.
Last week she claimed she and her husband had also been ripped off by Martinez, and unleashed a torrent of abuse at this reporter, before threatening to call the police.
Attempts to contact Martinez by phone and email were unsuccessful, but it remains to be seen how long he can stay invisible in an era when a person's past can follow them through cyberspace. Some victims say they have been to the police but were told it is a civil matter. However, police confirmed a detective at Boroondara is investigating Martinez.
Consumer Affairs Victoria also has him in its sights. ''There is no building registration held for Mr Martinez or any of his aliases, which is required for a person undertaking domestic building works costing more than $5000,'' a spokeswoman said.
''CAV has received 11 recent complaints from customers claiming that Mr Martinez took excessive deposits for building work, failed to complete that work and then could not be contacted.''