BEVERLY — It all seemed to be on the up and up when Kenneth Silva approached Beverly electrician David Keenan about doing some subcontracting work for him back in 2011.
Silva said he ran a business called International Sign and Construction, and that all of his employees and equipment were tied up on a big job in Philadelphia, Keenan said. Could Keenan handle some jobs for him around Massachusetts as a subcontractor?
“He just looked so legit,” said Keenan. “He had all the flyers and stuff.” He said he had an office on Newbury Street in Boston and another in upscale Logan Square in Philadelphia.
Plus, he promised in writing to pay Keenan within 10 days.
More than a year later, Keenan is still out more than $15,400, and Silva, 45, of Sharon, is facing charges of felony larceny by false pretense.
And along the way, Keenan learned that he’s not the only small business allegedly scammed by Silva.
Keenan rattled off a list of half a dozen other businesses who have also done work for Silva or who paid Silva to do work for them. They’re now hoping police in their jurisdictions will pursue similar charges, said Keenan.
“If there are six or seven of us just on the North Shore and we all got beat up by him, if you take the North Shore and the South Shore, where he lives, and Boston and maybe out by Worcester, you wonder: how many people did this guy get?” said Keenan. “There’s got to be dozens and dozens of us.”
Police now believe Silva would approach businesses offering to handle their sign maintenance. His flyers claimed he’d done work for “Sheraton hotels,” AMC Theaters, Isuzu, Holiday Inn and major retail chains.
One flyer targeted gas stations with the pitch, “Are you tired of manually changing gas prices every morning?”
The businesses would pay Silva an unknown amount of money. Then Silva would send a subcontractor, like Keenan, to do the work.
Keenan worked on signs in Beverly, Peabody, Danvers, Reading, Stoneham, Boston’s Chinatown, and in Easton and Stoughton. Some of it required Keenan to hire his own subcontractor with a bucket truck, at a cost of $400 a day.
When Keenan started looking for his payment, however, all he got were excuses, he said.
One message from Silva reads, “im scramblin to get u paid and the bank was closed, email me ur invoices to this point.”
In another message, he claimed his phone had “died.” Keenan saved and printed out the messages.
On a trip to a local electrical supply house, Keenan mentioned the situation. A friend from a company called Star Sign immediately recognized the name and groaned. They had also been targets of Silva, Keenan said.
The businesses got together and contacted the attorney general’s office, but were told it was a civil matter that they’d have to pursue in small claims court.
That didn’t feel right to Keenan. “I said to myself, this is ridiculous that this guy is getting away with this,” he said.
So Keenan, “the average working guy with a wife and three kids trying to make a living,” turned detective.
The phone numbers turned out to be for prepaid cellphones in someone else’s name. The offices on Newbury Street in Boston? A mailbox at a UPS Store (turns out the address he used in Philadelphia is also a mailbox at a UPS Store).
He and some of the other business owners stumbled upon his real address in an unusual way: One of the businesses Silva had approached, North Reading Motor Sports, had offered to pay in part with a new motorcycle, which Silva promptly used to pay a contractor doing work at his home.
He took his information to Beverly police detectives and they followed up on it, eventually seeking a warrant for Silva’s arrest. He was caught after a car in which he was a passenger was pulled over on Route 1.
His lawyer, Carmine Lepore of Revere, declined to comment on the case, saying he’s still going through the stack of reports and evidence, but said he expects to ask that the charges be dismissed at the next hearing in the case on March 1.
Meanwhile, Silva remains free on $1,000 personal surety.
Keenan’s not sure he’ll ever see any of the money he’s owed. “At this point,” Keenan said, “it’s the satisfaction” of seeing Silva held to account.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.