Billy Roy Fritz

‘Con man’ bilks 87-year-old Fairgrove woman out of $115,000, gets 17 years in prison

Billy Roy Fritz
Billy Roy Fritz

A 46-year-old Akron man was sentenced to 17 years in prison after taking a Fairgrove woman’s life savings – and then some – as part of a handyman scheme called “systematic and ruthless” by a judge in Tuscola County Circuit Court.
Billy Roy Fritz, who ran an unlicensed business called A-1 Handyman, was sentenced Wednesday by Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart to a minimum of 17 years in prison for “false pretenses.” He also must pay full restitution. A jury found Fritz guilty in September.
Tuscola County prosecutors called Fritz’s plan to rip off Virginia Batterbee, 87, of Fairgrove, “cold and calculated.”
In all, he took nearly $115,000 from Batterbee over a seven-month period for what experts testified in court was less than $1,000 worth of actual work and materials.
“It was a disappointment to learn someone would be so devious,” Batterbee told The Advertiser after
Fritz’s sentencing. “As for his future, I wish that he would have a change of heart and learn a different way to live.”
Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene called the case “infuriating” due to the extreme nature of the crime.
“It was very cold and calculated from his perspective and as to what he did,” Reene told The Advertiser. “There was a plan, he found a person who was trusting, and he just continued to exploit that circumstance to his obvious significant financial benefit and to her financial disaster.
“It’s hard,” Reene said. “You have someone who’s simply trying to solve a problem with her home that she loved, and this individual preyed upon her in every way imaginable.”
In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court after a jury found Fritz guilty, Eric Wanink, chief assistant prosecutor, Tuscola County, laid out the facts of the case. The incidents occurred between October 2014 and May 2015.
According to the filing, Batterbee said she saw an ad for “A-1 Handyman” in a newspaper advertisement and contacted Fritz to remove some brush around the home her family has owned on Main Street in Fairgrove since the 1960s.
Fritz mentioned that her roof was in need of repair. Batterbee said she had already retained a Vassar-based company to do the job, but that Fritz indicated the other contractor was “a crook.” Fritz managed to convince Batterbee to hire him for the gig.
“Soon the defendant seemed to keep finding more things wrong with Virginia’s home and kept talking her into hiring him to make repairs. He befriended her over the next few weeks and caused a bond of trust to form. He prayed on her Christian faith and her willingness to help others,” Wanink wrote in the memorandum.
“He told her hard luck stories about how sick his family was to pray on her sense of compassion,” Wanink wrote.
Batterbee told The Advertiser she had so much trust in and compassion for Fritz that she gave him a prayer shawl that she and others at her church had prayed over to give for a son he said was sick.
“Was there even a son?” she said. “I have no idea.”
Wanink advised the court that Fritz gave Batterbee verbal quotes for every job and that he “demanded payment up front, in full, by check – every time.”
“He would come up with some things and indicate that if they weren’t repaired, my house would be condemned,” Batterbee said. “He came up with some very imaginative ideas…carbon monoxide, the foundation falling apart…”
However, Fritz would do the job poorly or sometimes not even perform the work he was paid to do. In one example, Batterbee said she had someone look at pipes Fritz had worked on and it was discovered old pipes had been painted to look new.
Between October 2014 and May 2015, Fritz had been paid $96,303 for various jobs he promised to perform.
Prosecutors said it didn’t stop there.
“And when she began to run out of money, he convinced her to pay him by credit card for his ‘Services’ and charged her an additional $18,529.36 to her Discover Card.
“In total, he defrauded Virginia Batterbee of $114,832.36 in just seven months.”
Wanink told the court the only reason the scheme came to the attention of others was that Batterbee started to run out of money and could no longer pay her bills. She asked her daughter for financial help, who then took a close look at what was going on and realized the extent of the fraud. Michigan State Police were contacted.
Wanink also explained that Batterbee was not the only victim and that he did all his work as a purported “handyman” without a builder’s license, which he was required to have, and while on felony probation for resisting and obstructing a police officer.
Court documents show Fritz appears to have been gaming the legal system since his arrest by playing a kind of shell game with attorneys and waiting until the last minute to make certain requests, such as for court-appointed representation.
“The defendant is nothing less than a con man,” Wanink wrote. “He is a predator that will undoubtedly continue to prey on others in the community as he has Virginia Batterbee…”
Wanink added that “his conscience did not even kick in when she told him she did not have any more money…because he started taking her credit card as payment…and soaked her for another $18,000.”
Wanink said Batterbee is now left without her money, and with a home still desperately in need of repairs. Further, she’s “been hounded” by Discover Card representatives to pay of the immense debt that Fritz ran up, a debt she can no longer afford.
During sentencing Wednesday, Fritz did not address the court when given the opportunity.
His court-appointed attorney, Duane Burgess, asked Gierhart for shortened sentence.
“As I argued to the jury, Mrs. Batterbee made some bad business decisions,” Burgess told the court. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that Mr. Fritz is a criminal.”
Burgess would conclude by asking for the lowest possible sentence per guidelines.
Gierhart, however, was having none of it.
“Some of the most appalling testimony came from Mrs. Batterbee’s son who indicated that the home, best case scenario, was probably worth between $30,000 and $40,000. However the defendant managed to talk Mrs. Batterbee into repairs of in excess of $100,000.”
Gierhart would go on to call Fritz’s approach to scamming Batterbee as “systematic and ruthless” and pointed out that Batterbee’s “life savings are completely depleted.”
During sentencing, Gierhart also pointed out evidence from the trial that indicated Fritz had attempted to drive a wedge between Batterbee and her adult children by, among other things, telling her they were concerned about some kind of inheritance.
“Obviously, this was not the case but the assertion in and of itself was the infliction of an emotional injury not to mention that this proud lady who has lived frugally her entire life most likely will be unable to leave anything to her children due to the defendant’s actions.
“Most importantly, the defendant stole this proud, independent lady’s peace of mind at the age of 87. Having lived a frugal existence, she was now in fear of financial doom,” Gierhart said.
Batterbee confirmed that she is still working with Discover to try and sort out the matter.
Gierhart said she was sentencing Fritz to at least 17 years in prison (maximum 30 years) to “provide the victim with peace to live out her last days with the assurance that the defendant is incarcerated for that entire period of time and cannot cause her any physical harm.”
Reene said he believes the sentencing was appropriate and that Fritz “earned every day of that through his conduct and pain he has inflicted.”
Batterbee told The Advertiser that she felt the sentencing was appropriate, and also had additional hope for Fritz.
“My hope is that he will change his lifestyle and will gain some understanding,” Batterbee said. “I’m hopeful that he will learn a better way of life to live.”
Reene said he hopes the case serves as a warning to others about working with contractors.
He said cases of contractors taking advantage of people are common, though not always as extreme as Batterbee’s and oftentimes, unreported.
Reene suggested asking for a contractor’s license before hiring him or her for any work. There are several types of licensing required by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. A complete breakdown of the types needed for those who work on homes and home repairs can be found at http://bit.ly/2fMad3u
One example is a Maintenance & Alteration (M&A) Contractor who “is licensed to perform only specific trades and services and may accept contracts only in the trade(s) or craft(s) for which he or she is licensed,” according to the website.
Batterbee also suggests those who need to hire work out ask for references, as she recently did when she finally was able to get her roof repaired properly.
She said the company gladly and happily had references to supply and that when she called them, the company checked out. Further, Batterbee said she and her son actually went to previous worksites of the company to verify the quality of work.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

1 thought on “‘Con man’ bilks 87-year-old Fairgrove woman out of $115,000, gets 17 years in prison

  1. I hope that the judge also required of this skunk to pay restitution totally & completely with interest accrued even if he has to pay it to her estate, he is a dispicable pos to do this to anyone let alone a woman who is old enough to be his grandmother.

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