NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Texas contractor has been convicted of stealing more than $100,000 from families desperate to rebuild their homes destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1cNhfd7) Malachi Crump, 64, was found guilty Monday of three counts of felony theft — one each for the three families he swindled.
Crump, on parole and never licensed in Louisiana, owned Chimere's Builders. He signed contracts with three elderly women promising to completely renovate their homes. They gave him thousands in down payments and some wrote additional checks for supplies. Authorities say he did some work at some houses and nothing at others. When the homeowners began asking questions, he disappeared.
Crump's attorney, Eusi Phillips, argued that any disagreement about the quality of his work was a civil matter better resolved through a lawsuit.
"This case is in the wrong building," he said. "It should be down the street in Civil District Court."
The jury disagreed and found him guilty as charged.
"This isn't a civil case; this is a thief and a con man," Assistant District Attorney Lauren Favret said during her opening statements.
State District Judge Frank Marullo will sentence Crump next month. He faces up to five years on each count but he could also be called back to Texas. He was convicted there in 1994 of possession of cocaine and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released in 2002 and scheduled to remain on parole through 2018.
One of Crump's victims testified Monday that she wrote him an initial check for $20,000 to fix up her home in New Orleans East, followed that with three more, for a total of $43,000.
Phillips questioned why she continued to pay him if she thought he wasn't holding up his end of the contract.
"I can't explain it, I was at a state where I just wanted to get home," said Sandra David. "I just wanted to go home."
She left the courtroom crying.
Crump wired her house for electricity and put up the drywall, then disappeared. He never installed the cabinets, the air conditioning, hot water heater, bathtubs, sinks, carpet, tile or paint. He stopped answering her calls.
An inspector discovered the electrical work he had done was not up to code, and the dry wall and wiring had to be ripped out and replaced.
Davis and her husband ultimately paid another contractor another $34,000 to complete the house.
Her husband, still furious six years later, called him a "clown," a "fool," and "a narcissist."
"It was one lie after another lie after another lie," Brian Davis said on the stand.
Carl Bourque, an investigator with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors, told jurors Crump has never been licensed to legally perform contracting work in the state.
Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com