BELFAST, Maine — A Waldo County jury on Thursday deliberated less than an hour before finding an unlicensed contractor guilty of stealing more than $100,000 from a Monroe homeowner.
David Webber, 49, of Monroe will be sentenced Friday for theft by deception. The Class B crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and as much as $20,000 in fines.
Maine Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said after the trial that it’s unlikely Webber has enough assets to pay fines or restitution to the homeowner, but that the state will ask for a significant jail sentence.
“Construction fraud is a continuing problem in the state of Maine, and this is such a blatant example,” the prosecutor said. “We want to send a message to the contractors — don’t rip off consumers when doing work on the most valuable asset they have, which is their home.”
In court, she and expert witnesses painted a picture of a contractor who went to great lengths to financially exploit Tom Watson, who owned two houses on the Emery Road. Watson was particularly vulnerable, she said, because he lived in an isolated place and had major hearing loss.
“He communicates primarily by text or email and couldn’t figure out how to get a legitimate contractor out to his house to work on his plumbing problem,” Robbin said, adding that Watson eventually went to Facebook to look for a plumber in August 2017. “That’s how he contacted David Webber.”
Webber, who claimed to be a fully licensed, certified contractor, in fact did not have any licenses at all, according to the prosecutor. But he asked to rent the vacant house that Watson owned, and for nearly a year continued to find supposed problems in the two houses that he would fix — for a premium, Robbin said. In just a two-week period in late summer 2017, Watson paid Webber $7,500 for work he had allegedly done on his well, $550 to repair a new washer and dryer unit and $5,500 to replace the well pump.
The alleged problems with Watson’s plumbing, heating, well and electrical system, and the checks to pay to repair them, didn’t slow down, Robbin said. Between August 2017 and July 2018, Watson paid Webber a total of $174,000, but prosecutors did not charge Webber with theft for the transactions in which he had actually done some work.
They argued that his total theft was $140,000, the amount of the transactions for which experts testified that Webber did not and could not have done the work he claimed — and was paid — to do.
“I think the most dramatic example of that is that [Webber] claimed to have a special tool to remove the piping for the radiant heating and replace it,” Robbin said. “He charged Tom Watson $18,000 for that.”
But there is no such tool, she said, and Webber did not fix the radiant heating.
“He never intended to do that,” she said. “It was a complete fairy tale.”
Webber was arrested in October 2018, more than a year after meeting Watson. The court initially set his bail at $50,000, because police learned he had an active warrant for his arrest from Virginia for a similar reason, a 2009 charge of larceny for failure to perform construction.
A phone message left for Webber’s lawyer, Tom Shehan of Searsport, was not immediately returned on Thursday.
Webber did not take the stand in his own defense, according to Robbin.
“As a result, we’ll never know what was going on for him,” she said.
Watson did have an opportunity to address the court.
“He said he still wants to believe the best in people until proven otherwise,” Robbin said. “He’s still financially secure, even though he paid out all this money because of fraud. He worries about other consumers, who could be left penniless or lose their home, if they spend a significant amount of money relying on a contractor.”