54-year-old Houston-area contractor accused of taking thousands from customers, doing little to no work
HOUSTON - In Texas, anyone can grab a hammer and a ladder and call themselves a contractor. There's no license required and no regulation.
"I lost $103,000," said Lorena Reyes. That's not all Reyes says she lost.
SUGGESTED: 'WHERE'S MIKE MORATH?' 'WHERE'S YOUR BOSS AT?' Community members continue sharing their disdain for TEA takeover of Houston ISD
"He left me without my family," she said. "My father has stopped talking to me for years."
After hiring 54-year-old Salim Zantout to do foundation work, Reyes says the pair started dating.
From February through July 2018, she says she gave him $103,000 to build two townhouses on some property near downtown.
"When the investigating officer went to the job site, there was zero construction," said Valerie Turner, Chief Prosecutor of the Harris County DA Consumer Fraud Section. "When I interviewed the defendant, he said he actually cleared the land, which is the first step but a far cry from $103,000."
"I had given him all that money and I felt oh my God what have I done, I hired a private detective," Reyes said.
SUGGESTED: Activists demand Harris County judge reinstate higher bond for teen who allegedly left woman paralyzed
She says she discovered Zantout was married and the target of civil suits.
"Everytime I was with him in his truck, there were people calling, when are you coming, you haven't finished the job yet," said Reyes. "He was like oh my God, all these people do is just cry and cry and cry."
In addition to Reyes, the DA's office has filed aggregate theft charges against Zantout in another case.
"That complainant paid over $7,000, which is the total amount of the contract for the defendant to do foundation work at his home," said Turner. "The defendant did about 15% of the work, but never came back."
Reyes says she's found other victims through a Facebook page she created called, ‘Victims of Salim Zantout.’
"I lost everything, but I didn't lose myself," she said.
In a response, Zantout's attorney told us he's cooperated with the investigation and voluntarily turned himself into the court to face the 2018 charges.