Three victimized in Tisbury rental scam
Tisbury police are investigating a man who apparently conned at least three people out of thousands of dollars by renting a room in a Vineyard Haven condominium he didn't own.
Police say they are seeking a complaint charging the suspect, Damien Crabbe, 40, with larceny.
Mr. Crabbe rented a two-bedroom condo for the past winter at Causeway Harborview Condominiums on Skiff Avenue. The condo owners, Tom and Janice Morrissey of East Sandwich, said Mr. Crabbe signed a lease, provided his financial information, and paid his rent on time.
He was scheduled to move out on May 15, but before he did, he took out a classified advertisement in the Martha's Vineyard Times, offering to sublet one of the rooms for the summer months.
According to police, two people met with Mr. Crabbe last month, and both paid him money to rent the room for the summer. He told one of the prospective renters that he was going to England for shoulder surgery, and would rather sublet the room than put all of his belongings into storage.
One couple told police they paid Mr. Crabbe $2,000 by check, and later identified a driver's license photo of Mr. Crabbe as the man who took her check. The check was later cashed. Another person told police she paid Mr. Crabbe $1,600 in cash to rent the same room.
The scheme began to unravel when one of the victims went to the condominium, and found the other moving in.
Mr. Morrissey, the condo owner, was shocked when a neighbor in the complex called and told him someone was trying to move into his condo. He says he has since made contact with another person who paid Crabbe $2,400 by check to sublet the same room. So far, it appears that Mr. Crabbe took in a total of $6,000, and there may be more victims that the police and the Morrisseys do not yet know about.
Mr. Morrissey said all the people who were victimized met with Mr. Crabbe on the weekend of April 26-27.
When Mr. Morrissey traveled to the Island last week to investigate, Mr. Crabbe was apparently gone. There was no response at the phone number listed in the advertisement to sublet a room. In other documents, Mr. Crabbe listed different post office boxes as mailing addresses, and also listed a different phone number, none of which could be confirmed as belonging to him.
Mr. Morrissey said there were indications in the empty condo that Mr. Crabbe planned to leave.
"It was a mess. He didn't do any structural damage, but it was just a mess," said Mr. Morrissey. "The last thing that I could find, the last thing dated was April 25. He bought a nice big porterhouse steak, which he never ate. I found a receipt for a big duffle bag."
Ms. Morrissey was surprised to hear of the scheme. Both she and her husband said Mr. Crabbe was very cordial when they talked periodically over the past winter, and appeared to be keeping their condominium in good order.
"He was a really nice man," said Ms. Morrissey. "Before this, if someone had called me for a recommendation, I would have given him a very good recommendation."
Mr. Morrissey said at the time he rented the condo, he didn't do a background check because Mr. Crabbe told them he was from Ireland, but he did get a good reference from his local employer, a tree contractor who paid the first and last month's rent for the winter lease, and vouched for his employment.
Police say a check of state records shows Mr. Crabbe had a Massachusetts driver's license. Records also show a restraining order was issued in 2005 to a man with the same name and date of birth. The plaintiff in that case was an Aquinnah woman whose number has been disconnected.
The Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce gets thousands of inquiries each year about vacation rentals, but no one there could remember hearing about a similar scheme.
"Make sure you get a lease," said Linda Dellatorre, manager of tourism services. "Protect yourself with a short-term lease."
A check of several local rental agencies, the Massachusetts Better Business Bureau, and the state attorney general's office indicates that this kind of rental scheme is not common.