Sep 18, 2023

Portage man faces multiple fraud, theft charges over new fences

Jose Arturo Gonzales, 52, of Portage, has been charged with four counts of Level 6 felony fraud and three counts of Level 6 felony theft for allegedly taking money from three Valparaiso and Portage residents between July and October to install residential fencing and never doing the work.

Gonzales has been in custody at Porter County Jail since Thursday, according to online records; an initial hearing has not yet been scheduled.

According to charging documents, the first incident happened on July 29, 2022 when a woman in the 400 block of Norfolk Road in Valparaiso hired Gonzales to install a fence on her property. She signed a contract that was titled American Fence Company, Inc., and Gonzales also signed the contract as president of the company.

The contract was for $11,141 and the woman wrote Gonzales a check for $8,300. The down payment was to pay for the purchase of supplies.

Her check was cashed at the Centier Bank in Portage on Aug. 1, 2022. The woman told the Porter County Sheriff's Department she attempted to contact Gonzales to either complete the work or return her deposit. She never received a reply or a refund.

When the sheriff's detective worked the case he learned Portage Police were investigating two similar incidents. A man in the 3100 block of Butterfly Road in Portage also signed a contract with Gonzales, who represented himself as president of American Fence Company, Inc., on Sept. 1, 2022 for $11,250. He also wrote a check for $8,437.50, according to court documents.

That check was cashed at the Centier Bank inside of the Strack & Van Til grocery store in Portage the same day. An additional contract was signed Oct. 9, 2022 between the two for $1,113.75 representing homeowners association expenses. The resident gave Gonzales a check for the additional $1,113.75 and it was cashed at the Centier Bank on Oct. 11, 2022.

The alleged victim provided Portage Police with a series of text messages between himself and Gonzales in which he demanded the fence be installed or his money refunded. Gonzales responded that he was having financial difficulties but would take care of the project or return the money. The homeowner never received his money or heard anything further from Gonzales, documents state.

Finally, a woman living in the 6600 block of Robbins Road in Portage told Portage Police she had entered into a $1,250 contract with Gonzales on Sept. 16, 2022 to install a fence on her property. She told police she wrote Gonzales a check for $900 and it was cashed at the Centier Bank in the Portage Strack & Van Til the same day.

When the woman went to Portage City Hall on Sept. 19, 2022 to obtain a building permit for the fence she was told American Fence Company's permit had expired with the city and it was not authorized to work in the city until it was renewed. She texted Gonzales and he promised to obtain the permit by Oct. 20, 2022 or refund her money.

On Oct. 30, 2022 the woman again texted Gonzales demanding her money. He never responded.

Charging documents state that Portage Police detectives received a call from Gonzales on April 19 during which he stated he did not want to go to jail for the money he had taken, and that he had been depressed and unable to work for the last few months due to his mental state. If convicted, a Level 6 Felony in Indiana carries a jail sentence between six months and 2.5 years, and a fine up to $10,000.

Gonzales and his company also are subject to three civil suits in Porter County, according to online court records.

Shelley Jones is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.