Man hired to renovate Ohio couple’s home locked owners out, moved himself in, police say

The man didn’t provide any of the services the homeowners requested, officials said,
Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 2:02 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Dennis and Amanda Harvey wanted to fix up and sell their old Colerain Township home. Police say the man the couple hired to do the renovations had other plans: he decided to move in.

Wayne Colwell Jr., 52, was indicted earlier this month on counts including theft and unauthorized use of property, according to Hamilton County Common Pleas Court records.

Colwell didn’t provide any of the services the Harveys requested, officials said, adding he changed the locks and denied the Harveys access to their Niagara Street home, blocking them from checking on the progress of the renovations.

Dennis Harvey said Colwell was recommended to him by his uncle, for whom Colwell had done roofing work last year. The couple hired him in July to do the renovations, giving him an initial payment of $20,000 in cash, Harvey said.

The Harveys met up with Colwell, who was using a fake name, and told them the house would have to be quarantined, claiming it had black mold and it would take up to three months before the work was finished, Harvey said.

“For a while, we thought things were going OK,” 36-year-old Dennis Harvey said.

While Colwell was giving the couple updates on his progress, it took just a few weeks before the couple got calls from their neighbors saying that Colwell was living there and strangers were coming into and out of the house, he said.

Harvey said Colwell started making excuses as to why they couldn’t inspect the house and on the occasions that they showed up at the property, Colwell wouldn’t let them in.

When the Harveys got in touch with the police, they were initially told it was a civil matter and there was nothing authorities could do, Harvey said.

Officers eventually learned Colwell was operating under “potentially fraudulent” business names and that he was wanted on warrants out of Dearborn, Warren and Franklin counties. Charges included home improvement fraud, theft and a probation violation, officials said in a news release Thursday.

Colerain Township officers took Colwell into custody on the morning of Aug. 16.

Court records show Colwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His public defender, Josh Hitch, said he’s yet to review the evidence prosecutors intend to present in court and has nothing to say about the case.

Colwell is also facing a charge of possessing a weapon illegally for a loaded gun officers found in his safe.

“After the police got him out, that’s when we came into the house and realized that he completely destroyed the property,” Harvey said.

The couple says Colwell painted strange colors on the walls, hung cabinets in unusual places and built walls in the garage turning the space into a living area.

Colwell also made himself a bedroom with a bed that wasn’t in the house when the Harveys hired him and stored food in the couple’s refrigerator, they said. He even installed security cameras.

Harvey said the house was mostly empty when Colwell was hired, except for a few pieces of furniture and tools.

Pictures provided to our media partners at The Enquirer show artwork hung on the walls, a full DVD rack, an outdoor grill and clothes hanging from coat hangers.

The couple says they were able to retrieve two cars they agreed to give Colwell as part of the payment for the renovation work, but they’re still out thousands of dollars.

The Harveys and Amanda’s 67-year-old father are living at their new house in Maineville. They all suffer from disabilities and help each other out.

“We just wanted to make the house that we’re living at, you know, a place that we could all three live at until the time that we die, basically. And it would be accommodating to all of us and, you know, it makes life simpler and easier for us all,” said Harvey, whose leg is amputated and uses a wheelchair. “We don’t know if that’s what’s gonna end up happening now.”

The investigation by the Colerain Township Police Department is ongoing and anyone with information, or who believes they may be a victim, should call 513-321-2677.