JANESVILLE—A Lake Geneva couple loaned a Janesville woman $10,000 last fall so she could remodel her house to better care for her disabled veteran husband. They now regret that decision.
The money was supposed to allow Deanna Hatch to get the work done so she didn't have to wait for other donations to cover the cost, according to Robert and Lavonne Webster of Lake Geneva.
But Hatch never repaid the money and didn't respond to numerous attempts to contact her, the Websters said.
And the work was never done, according to a contractor who had worked with Hatch on the plans.
The Gazette published articles last October outlining the plight of Francis Hatch, who can't get out of bed without help because of a parachuting injury and suffers from post-traumatic stress.
The Websters read about the Hatches and decided to help, as they had done for other veterans over the years, they said. Robert, an American Legion member for 67 years, wears a cap proclaiming his service in World War II and Korea.
They had set the money aside for the educations of their great-grandchildren, the Websters said, but knew they could do without it for a time. They wanted to announce their gift to their family at Christmastime, so they expected the money back before then.
The Websters showed a printed IOU, dated Nov. 9 and signed by Deanna Hatch, which calls the money a temporary, no-interest loan, “payable when the proceeds from Francis' fundraising events become available.”
Four months later, the Websters have not heard from Deanna Hatch. They left her voice mails and emails, went to her door, and Lavonne has written her two letters, they said.
They sent Deanna an email Dec. 5, asking how things were progressing, and she promised to call back but never did, Robert said.
The Gazette called Hatch numerous times. The calls all went to voice mail. A reporter also left his card with a man who answered the door at the Hatches' house Friday in a nice neighborhood on Janesville's east side.
It appears Hatch was close to having the money. An online fundraiser shows $8,303 in pledges.
Hatch told The Gazette in October that an anonymous donor had dropped off an envelope with $1,000, and another person gave $500, and she alluded to other donations and in-kind donations of various services.
Hatch had told The Gazette that the Veterans Administration was ready to give her a grant for most of the cost, but she needed $10,000 more.
The Websters talked to the contractor, who wanted to start immediately to get ahead of winter weather, they said.
The entire project was to cost $100,000, Hatch told The Gazette. It included installing an emergency exit door from the bedroom where Francis is in his hospital bed, new floors, a hallway and doorways, and installing an overhead rail system so Francis could be more easily moved around the house.
Greg Odden of Glen Fern Construction in Lake Geneva said Thursday that Deanna had told him she was dealing with other problems, including the death of her mother.
“I said I'll sit tight till you are ready,” Odden said.
Odden said even before the Gazette story, Deanna would often take a week or two to respond to his phone calls.
Odden said he was “a little bit surprised' when he heard what happened with the Websters.
“Maybe it's that she's just overwhelmed,” Odden said.
Last summer, Deanna told Odden she was overwhelmed by the process of applying for the VA loan and making building plans. He said he told her he would do anything he could to simplify it for her.
The Websters eventually filed a small-claims lawsuit against Hatch in Rock County Court. Hatch did not appear for the Jan. 13 hearing, so a judge issued a default judgment for the Websters, but they still haven't received any of their money back.
“She seemed like such a nice lady,” and she offered the Websters help if they ever needed it, Lavonne said. “Looking back, I don't know if that lady ever told us the truth.”
Robert said he and Lavonne will not suffer any hardship from the loss of the money.
“We have no hard feelings towards the Hatch family, but we are terribly disappointed that our good-faith offer to help them was so abused,” the Websters said in a written statement. “We find it hard to believe that Deanna Hatch could be so cruel to two overly trusting senior citizens. In looking back, it now appears that we made a judgment error in trusting a stranger in another one of our many ongoing efforts to help troops and fellow veterans when they are in need.”