, Newburyport, MA

March 11, 2014

W. Newbury man charged with scamming tenants

By Dave Rogers
Staff Writer

---- — WEST NEWBURY — A Bachelor Street homeowner faces charges for using Craigslist to lure potential renters into giving him large amounts of cash to secure rooms, then pocketing the money and refusing to make good on the rentals.

Dana Chooljian, 47, of 156 Bachelor St., was charged last week with two counts of larceny over $250 by false pretenses. Yesterday he was arraigned on those charges at Newburyport District Court as well as attending a probation violation hearing related to a past Craigslist scam dating back to 2013.

“It’s a broken record,” West Newbury police Chief Lisa Holmes said yesterday.

Last Friday, Chooljian was charged with trying to rent out a guest house, separate from his main property, that had been condemned by health agent Paul Sevigny last December.

According to the police report, after seeing a listing on the online classified site, the victim agree to give Chooljian $400 to secure the house. Chooljian told the victim the house would be ready by Feb. 3. But when that date came and went without hearing from Chooljian, the victim went to police.

Days earlier, Chooljian was charged with the same crime when another victim responded to a different Craigslist ad, this one for a room within the main house. The victim gave Chooljian $700, $500 rent and $200 deposit, with the understanding he would move in March 1. The victim was later informed that the previous tenant would not be leaving. When attempts to retrieve his money failed, the victim contacted the authorities, according to court records.

Court records show that Chooljian was on probation at the time of those two charges in regards to a June 21, 2013 plea deal stemming from a similar incident. In May, 2013. a female victim responded to a Craigslist ad that listed a “large one bedroom apartment” for $850 a month with utilities included. Days after giving Chooljian the deposit, the victim noticed the apartment was still being listed, raising her suspicion. When she contacted Chooljian, he assured her that she would receive her money back, court records state. But after several weeks, he had yet to reimburse her, leading her to call police.

Chooljian was charged with larceny by check over $250 and eventually admitted to sufficient facts in court to the charge. As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, the case against him was continued without a finding until Dec. 22, 2014 by which time he was to reimburse the victim. When months went by without Chooljian paying the victim back, prosecutors threatened him with violating conditions of his probation.

Yesterday, a judge revoked Chooljian’s bail regarding the June plea, as well as a second incident in which he allegedly stole a $1,000 laptop computer from a tenant in January. Chooljian was ordered held on $2,000 cash bail for the most recent charges. He is scheduled for a jury trial in the January open case on April 2 and for a pretrial hearing in this recent case on the same date, according to an Essex County District Attorney spokeswoman.

According to police, Chooljian not only scammed multiple people via Craigslist, but he also asked tenants to pay him cash for rugs, paint and, in one case, a water heater for their rooms, only never to follow through.

“All their stories are the same,” West Newbury police Sgt. Jeffrey Durand said.

According to Durand, a family with small children had been living in the unheated “guest house” which was once a pool house, over the winter, violating the condemnation order of Health Agent Paul Sevigny.

“It’s just a mess — you wouldn’t let your dog live in there,” Durand said.

Sevigny did not respond to a phone call or an email, asking for more information on the house and why he had condemned it, in time for this report.