Charges: Contractor left projects unfinished, used funds for personal expenses

- More than a dozen homeowners lost tens of thousands of dollars after the contractor they hired to help improve their homes took the money they paid him and used it for other purposes, leaving their homes unfinished and forcing many of them to pay more money to finish the projects themselves.

David Baker, 50, of Lakeville owns and operates the contracting business Lifestyle Basements. Over the course of 2014, 14 homeowners hired Baker for home improvement projects, paying him between $121,000 and $56,000 to over the course of several months to work on their homes, according to the criminal complaint.

The homeowners told police Baker led them to believe the money would be used to complete the projects, including paying any subcontractors or vendors.

In most cases, the project would begin on schedule, and then start experiencing delays, which Baker claimed was due to the availability of materials and factors. The homeowners later learned Baker had used the money for other purposes and had run out of funds to complete their projects.

In one case, three months after the project began, Baker admitted to the homeowners he had used the money they paid him for other purposes and was waiting to receive money from another job in order to continue to work on the project. In another case, he actually told the homeowners he would not be able to finish the work he had started because he ran out of money.

Baker also failed to pay the subcontractors and vendors he hired for the various projects. After Baker ceased working on the projects, the unpaid subcontractors and vendors would then contact the homeowners, asking to be paid for their work and materials and often filing a lien against the property.

Nearly all of the victims ended up having to use more of their own money to pay the subcontractors and the vendors themselves, “in effect, paying twice for the same work,” according to the criminal complaint.

Baker is being charged with 14 counts of theft by swindle and 14 counts of nonpayment for improvement.

In an email to Fox 9, Baker’s lawyer, John Lamey, said Baker agreed to confess judgement to several of the homeowners in civil court so they could apply to the Minnesota Department of Labor’s Contractor Recovery Fund, The Contractor Recovery Fund compensates property owners who have suffered a financial loss due to a licensed contractor’s “fraudulent, deceptive or dishonest practices.”

“Mr. Baker feels bad that people lost money, and did the right this to make it easy for them to apply to the contractor fund,” Lamey said.

In regards to the felony charges, Lamey said Baker plans to defend himself against the allegations.

Lamey is also the bankruptcy attorney for Baker’s contracting business. Two month s prior to filing for bankruptcy, Baker borrowed close to $200,000 from a relative “in hopes of avoiding the business bankruptcy and making thigs right with customers and vendors,” according to Lamey.  But, the business still failed and is currently in bankruptcy proceedings.

“Mr. Baker did not live a lavish lifestyle, and did not steal any monies from customers or vendors,” Lamey said in a statement emailed to Fox 9. “Once the facts are aired in open court, this will become apparent.”

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