‘He should be locked up’: Local senior citizens say contractor has vanished with thousands

Data pix.

WINDSOR, Mo. -- In Missouri, it's a felony to defraud a senior citizen, but it's a law rarely enforced.

Because of that, scammers thrive in this state, and their targets are all too often people like James and Nena Smith.

"See that swaying down and caving in," James Smith said, showing his roof that he and his wife paid a roofer more than $7,000 to repair months ago.

But all the Smiths have to show for that money is a tarp.

They can't even get in touch with roofer Chris Ridenour to find out when -- or if -- he ever plans to finish the job.

"My worry now is that with the winter coming on, the whole thing is going to cave in, and I'm not going to have a place to live because they are going to condemn my house and I'll be on the street," said Nena Smith who suffers from a variety of medical conditions and relies on a wheelchair to get around.

The Smiths have reason to be worried about their roof. The support beams in the attic are collapsing.

But they gave the only money they had to fix the problem to Ridenour.

Sadly, the Smiths aren't the only ones out money because they trusted the wrong man.

"He should be locked up," Ted Brownsberger said, referring to Ridenour. "He shouldn't be allowed to run loose and do this to anyone he wants to."

Brownsberger paid Ridenour more than $42,000 to build a pole barn at his home in Warsaw.

After putting a few poles in the ground, Ridenour stopped showing up, Brownsberger said.

"He just disappeared, and we kept looking for him, and no one knew where he was," said Brownsberger who moved back to Missouri a few years ago after retiring.

Brownsberger sued Ridenour and won a default judgment after Ridenour failed to show up in court.

But Ridenour has never paid the judgment.

Brownsberger complained to the Benton County prosecutor, hoping to go after Ridenour criminally. The prosecutor told him he he didn't have a case -- even though it's a felony to defraud a senior citizen in Missouri.

Court records show that Brownsberger and the Smiths are among a half dozen victims of the same contractor. Brownsberger said he's not surprised.

"Not really," he said, "not when the legal system will let him do it."

Attorney Robert Cox, who represented Brownsberger on his civil case, said it's disturbing that neither police nor prosecutors have taken action. Cox, a former prosecutor, said Ridenour committed a crime.

"It's clear to me this guy just took the money and disappeared," he said.

Cox said if prosecutors would charge Ridenour with a felony, he'd most likely figure out how to come up with the money to repay his victims and stop making new ones.

FOX4 Problem Solvers had nearly given up hope solving this problem, but days after we started looking into this case, the Henry County Sheriff's Department launched an investigation. The county prosecutor is assisting them.

Ridenour told FOX4 that he's working on trying to repay people. But that's news to many of his victims who have never seen a dime.

Plus, after we contacted Ridenour, the Smiths received a text message from him warning them that if they spoke to FOX4, they wouldn't get any money back.

The Smiths told us they refuse to be intimidated.

If you've been a victim of Ridenour, we encourage you to contact either the Henry County Prosecutor's Office or the Missouri Attorney General.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.