Home News Crime & Punishment Former SRU Professor Among The Victims Of A Home Improvement Scam

Former SRU Professor Among The Victims Of A Home Improvement Scam

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A Beaver Falls man is wanted by police, and two women have turned themselves in to authorities in connection with a home improvement fraud case in which investigators say an 87-year-old woman was bilked out of nearly $200,000.

An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday for Dannie Ledell Cook, 48, of Beaver Falls.

He is charged by state police with felony counts of theft by deception, deceptive business practices and home improvement fraud.

In court documents, police say Cook masterminded a 5-year-long scheme that steadily siphoned money from the victim, who is a former Slippery Rock University professor, for home improvement work.

Between July 2012 and November 2017, state police allege, the woman wrote Cook 46 checks for a total of $149,893. The money, police say, was purportedly for work Cook promised to do updating the woman’s home on Mohawk Trail in Slippery Rock Township. That work included replacing the home’s roof, fixing cracks on the front porch and foundation, and installing support beams in the home’s basement, according to court documents.

The alleged fraud was discovered late last year, after the woman fell at home and had to be taken to Grove City Medical Center and later an assisted living facility. When her power of attorney began reviewing her finances, police said, they noticed the checks written to Cook, as well as 12 checks written to two women.

Two co-defendants — Deborah Cook, 63, of Beaver Falls and Gina Zazac, 56, of Westmoreland City, Westmoreland County — both turned themselves in to authorities this week to face charges in the case. Both are charged with conspiracy to commit the crimes of theft by deception, deceptive business practices and home improvement fraud. All the charges are felonies.

Deborah Cook allegedly received seven checks for a total of $22,010, police said; Zazac received five checks totaling $17,140. Police say both women told investigators that they received the checks from Cook.

District Judge Bill O’Donnell arraigned Zazac on Wednesday and Cook on Thursday at his office in Slippery Rock. At their arraignments. Zazac was accompanied by her attorney, Jeffrey Ries of White Oak, Allegheny County, and Cook was accompanied by her attorney, Stephen Misko of Butler.

Neither Ries nor Misko immediately returned a telephone call Friday.

Deborah Cook was released on $20,000 unsecured bail and Zazac was released on $15,000 unsecured bail following arraignment. Their preliminary hearings are set for Sept. 26 at O’Donnell’s office.