An incident between a resident and gardener is being construed by the former as fraud. Despite the claim, the Colton Police Department, after a complete investigation, explained the incident is a civil matter, not a criminal issue.
Resident Maria Benitez–who lives in the 1800 block of N. Watwood Avenue–purchased Fertilizer and Seed/Topping services from gardener Eduardo Lopez on August 12. According to Benitez, Lopez informed her that the fertilizer was organic and drought resistant.
After providing a brief demonstration of how the product works (it consisted of Lopez sprinkling fertilizer on the grass and watering it), the gardener explained to Benitez that the fertilizer sold at $8 per bag. She was then encouraged by Lopez to reseed her lawn with Marathon Sod (perennial grass) instead of St. Augustine.
“This is why I feel so duped,” she explained. “My ex-husband was a landscaper and I remember him reseeding the lawn with St. Augustine seed. ‘We watered the grass three times a day’, I told the gardener. ‘Not this kind,’ he told me. ‘This you only have to water twice a week for two minutes and it will grow.’”
After Lopez reseeded the lawn and placed the fertilizer on the soil, he wrote an invoice (without a company name or central location) for 35 bags of fertilizer, amounting to approximately $1500.
“I didn’t have that type of money,” she said. “But I know how hard these people work. I understand. So in good faith, I paid them for the services. I gave them $500 in cash and a check for $800.”
What concerned Benitez thereafter was the rapidness of Benitez’s cashing of the check, as well as the name he told her to write the check under.
“He told me to make the check out William Menjivar,” said Benitez. “They told me they would be back in two weeks to check on the progress of the grass. I was never contacted. This was a scheme. This is not a fertilizer. It’s just mulch.”
She alluded that Eduardo Lopez and William Menjivar could be the same person. Lopez did not respond to numerous calls.
Last week during the City Council meeting, Benitez expressed her concerns to council members and police staff.
“I’m here to ask for your help and make the city aware of the scam that a lot of the citizens are falling victim of,” she said. “I have gone to the police department with no avail. Something needs to be done about this. I need help from somebody.”
Corporal Ray Mendez said the department went “above and beyond” to inquire about the civil complaint. He explained that the incident was investigated by a detective. After thorough analysis, it was determined that services were performed and rendered and mutually agreed upon.
“We provided her with copious amounts of information,” Mendez said. “The incident was investigated by a detective. We determined that it is a civil case. We encouraged her to seek legal counsel and follow up with an attorney.”
Councilman David Toro–whose district encompasses Benitez’s home–said it is an unfortunate situation that he hopes is resolved.
“It’s unfortunate someone was a victim of fraud,” he said. “If this is the case, we have to do everything we can to stop this person and solve the issue.”