Winterport contractor cleared of theft charges

Posted July 30, 2010, at 10:21 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A former contractor from Winterport has been acquitted of multiple charges of theft, his attorney said Thursday.

Robert M. Denike, 46, who owned and operated Barrd Builders in Holden, was accused of stealing money from an Orland couple by using payments from them to pay off subcontractors on other construction projects.

Jeff Toothaker, Denike’s defense attorney, said Thursday that his client may have been guilty of mismanagement, but not of theft. All the money Denike received from the couple was spent on his company’s financial obligations, he said.

“He didn’t have the experience for that business,” Toothaker said.

Denike was a chemical salesman before he moved to Maine and started working as a contractor, according to Toothaker. Denike no longer is in the contracting business.

“He just didn’t run his business right,” the defense attorney said. “Had he had better [bookkeeping], he would have seen it.”

Denike was facing three counts of theft. Two of the charges stemmed from two $66,000 payments the couple gave Denike as installments on a home construction project that Barrd Builders was overseeing, according to court documents filed in Hancock County Superior Court. The third charge of theft stemmed from subcontractors on that job not being paid. According to court documents, Denike had failed to pay nearly $89,000 total to nine subcontractors and suppliers.

A jury in Hancock County Superior Court reached a verdict of not guilty on all three counts on July 9.

Michael Povich, district attorney for Hancock County, said Friday that Denike had signed two agreements indicating that the money from the victims was to be paid to the subcontractors and suppliers on the project. The fact that he then used the money to pay other people, he said, was evidence that he committed theft.

“I was surprised by the verdict,” Povich said. “You don’t rob Peter to pay Paul.”

The homeowners ended up getting their house built and, because they had paid Denike, state law prevented the subcontractors and suppliers from placing any liens on their property, according to the prosecutor. But the victims did not know this initially and thought they would lose the property and the money they had put into it, he said. The original construction contract was for $444,000.

“You can’t put a dollar value on [the stress they went through],” Povich said.

After the homeowners fired Denike from the project, Denike filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Bangor in March 2006. The subcontractors and suppliers who hadn’t been paid, Povich said, were unsecured creditors and so got nothing out of the bankruptcy resolution.

In his bankruptcy filing, Denike reported assets with a total value of $275,000 and liabilities totaling more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

Povich said the bankruptcy was irrelevant to the criminal case, which the judge made clear to the jury.

“[Denike] sure stiffed an awful lot of people,” Povich said. “In the meantime, he paid himself $1,000 a week.”

The prosecutor said the victims, who were living in Connecticut when their home in Orland was under construction, were sophisticated people who drew up the construction contract themselves but did not have previous connections to Down East Maine.

The lesson from their experience is that people should have some knowledge of who it is they are hiring to build their homes, he said.

“There’s a lot of fly-by-night people out there who call themselves contractors or carpenters,” Povich said. “Know who you do business with. Go with reputable people.”

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