Con invoked Christian values
Three Tampa area men who made the six-hour trip to the Panhandle to supposedly help elderly Hurricane Michael victims repair their damaged homes have been sentenced to 30-37 months in federal prison and will have to pay nearly $1 million in combined restitution to the victims of their scam.
The feds charged Edward Newton of Lutz with using his two businesses, Newton Remodeling and Statewide Marketing, to carry out the fraudulent scheme. The original indictment charged Newton with hiring Christopher Mayes of Tarpon Springs and Christian Pantazonis of Largo to go door to door in Bay County soliciting home repair contracts, a month after Hurricane Michael struck in October of 2018.
They promised that the repair work would begin immediately, telling homeowners they required a down payment to obtain building materials and permits or to “place the homeowner at the front of the line” for repairs. As part of the fraud, they occasionally sent workers to complete small projects, such as removing damaged drywall or replacing shingles, in order to lead the homeowners to believe the major repairs were underway. When homeowners began to complain about the lack of work, Newton told them in writing or by phone that he would return the money he collected for the work never performed. However, in May of 2019, he sent each homeowner a letter stating that he did not intend to complete any of the contracted work and would not return any money.
In all, they stole about $319,000 in down payments from 10 elderly homeowners. The promised work often included roof replacement and major interior repair. One homeowner had to sell her home she’d lived in for 45 years due to the scam. Among the sordid details of this con, contained in Newton’s guilty plea, was henchman Mayes “often talking about what a good Christian he was…and upon seeing one victim wearing a Cross, he launched into a diatribe on his Christian values.”
“To anyone who endured the devastation of Hurricane Michael, it is almost inconceivable that anyone could stoop so low as to prey on the storm’s victims in such a craven way,” said Lawrence Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. “These men took advantage of trusting people in their time of greatest need, and I am pleased that our office has brought these thieves to justice.”
All three men pled guilty earlier this year to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Newton received 33 months, Mayes 37 months, and Pantazonis 30 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years of probation, and each was ordered to pay $326,664 in restitution to the victims.
LMA Newsletter of 8-31-20