BELFAST, Maine — Contractors can get a bad rap from homeowners who complain they’re hard to pin down. Sometimes their work comes in way over budget.
And then there’s David Webber.
The 49-year-old unlicensed Waldo County contractor was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday after being convicted earlier this year of stealing more than $155,000 from a Monroe homeowner who paid him for work he never did.
Webber also will be required to pay $70,000 in restitution to homeowner Tom Watson, who prosecutors argued was particularly vulnerable because he lived in an isolated place and had major hearing loss.
Contractor fraud of this magnitude involving a single client is not common in Maine, Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said Thursday, adding that the state partly sought jail time to deter other would-be wrongdoers.
“Part of the reason we ask for jail sentences in financial cases is to send notice to others that if they steal in the same manner, they will go to jail,” Robbin said. “Contractors and business people are more likely to read the papers than someone who acts impulsively. If you steal from your clients, you will end up behind bars.”
Robbin said she is satisfied with the sentence that Justice Robert Murray meted out to Webber, who will spend three years on probation once he’s released from prison. Webber can’t have contact with his victim and can’t engage in contractor work without obtaining the proper licensing under the judge’s ruling.
Webber declined to take the stand in his own defense during his jury trial in February, but defense attorney Gene Sullivan asked him Thursday to explain his actions.
“There is no excuse,” Webber said. “I did desperate things in desperate times and I apologize.”
Still, Webber attempted to offer several explanations.
He said he hadn’t properly reviewed the evidence in the case against him because his lawyer failed to provide him the documents in time. He also said he has a learning disability.
Despite the allegations against him, Webber said he didn’t target Watson because of his hearing disability, and did not even know about his impairment.
Sullivan told the court that Webber also was in a perturbed state after losing custody of some of his 10 estranged children.
Laura Webber begged for leniency for her husband.
“Your honor, I’m just asking for the court to give my husband some mercy,” she said. “Losing the children has been a very difficult thing. I know it’s in his heart to try and make it right, to make restitution if he can, and hopefully to become a better member of society.”
But a lot of David Webber’s explanations sounded like excuses to the state prosecutor.
Robbin said that Webber spent the stolen money on snowmobiles, other vehicles and traveling. He also gave one of his adult children nearly $40,000 for a wedding, and gave money to friends for their medical bills. He even refunded payments to a different client with funds he stole from Watson.
“I submit this is actually robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Robbin said, adding after the hearing that Webber’s explanations surprised her. “I have never seen a defendant want to get up and tell his side of the story after the trial and to emotionally blame other circumstances as the reason he was stealing from people.”
In the end, she said, Webber had no one to blame but himself.
Webber’s previous arrest in October 2018 for theft by deception should’ve been a “wake-up call,” Robbin said.
“But he sought out new victims,” she said.
George Pinkham, a Lincolnville property owner who testified Thursday, said he paid Webber $12,000 in January 2019 to replace water lines that had frozen in his building. That work was never done, he said.
“He came up with excuse after excuse,” Pinkham said.
Another former client, Crystaline Spaulding of Cushing, told the court she paid Webber just under $5,000 in late 2018 to do plumbing on her home she was building.
“He did some plumbing and then he started giving excuses,” she said.
Webber’s attorney said there was no way he’d be able to repay the full restitution he owed to Watson on his current flagger’s pay of $13 an hour, so the judge reduced it from $155,000 to $70,000.
“This level of conduct undertaken by the defendant demonstrated a significant breach of trust,” the judge said. “It was fraudulent to a degree that was rather striking.”