CLEARFIELD – A jury deliberated for approximately 20 minutes yesterday before finding Keith A. Conrad, 51, of DuBois guilty of theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds. However, the jury found Conrad not guilty of deceptive business practices.
Judge Paul Cherry presided over the day-long trial. District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. prosecuted the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Defense attorney Joe Ryan, Esq. represented Conrad. The charges against Conrad stemmed from him not completing a construction project in Treasure Lake in 2009.
At Conrad’s preliminary hearing in June of 2013, the magisterial district judge dismissed the theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds charge. The judge sent the deceptive business practices charge to the Court of Common Pleas.
The commonwealth proceeded to refile the theft charge. Also, another magisterial district judge was requested to hear the case at a second preliminary hearing. The commonwealth’s request was granted and at a preliminary hearing in October of 2013, the theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds charge was held for court.
Because Conrad was found guilty of the theft by failure to make the required disposition of funds charge, he faces a minimum of nine months and a maximum of seven years of incarceration. Conrad will also be ordered to pay full restitution, said Shaw.
“This trial had a dual purpose,” explained Shaw. “We really were going after the theft charge and had to fight for it. We were really after restitution and justice for the victims. At the same time, we have a lot of contractors in this area who are ripping people off, and we intend to pursue these types of cases in the future.”
Yesterday, Ronald Ferry, 65, of Treasure Lake testified first for the commonwealth. In October of 2009, he was contemplating a vacation home. After looking at different homes, Ferry found a lot he really liked in Treasure Lake and where he wanted to have a small, very energy efficient and economical home.
Ferry subsequently entered into a contract with Conrad to construct the home, which would include a geothermal system. In addition to the proposed cost to construct the home, Ferry paid more than $28,000 for the installation of the geothermal system. Over several months, Ferry paid Conrad approximately $205,000 in total construction costs for the home.
According to him, he paid Conrad in full for the construction. However, he told jurors that Conrad never finished his home. In August of 2010, he said Conrad’s construction progress was really lagging and he kept pulling men off the job. At one point, he said Conrad was the only one working on the home and when he returned about one week later, all of Conrad’s tools and equipment were gone.
When asked about the geothermal system, Ferry said Boyer’s Refrigeration, Heating & Air Conditioning installed it. Also, when he made his initial payment to Conrad, Ferry said he was left with the impression that it would be for start-up construction materials, as well as for the geothermal system.
When asked, Ferry said he specifically paid Conrad for the geothermal system. In June of 2010, he was contacted by Scott Boyer, owner of Boyer’s Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning and asked if he paid Conrad for the geothermal system. At this time, Ferry found out that Conrad hadn’t paid Boyer beyond the initial deposit for the geothermal system.
Ferry said he contacted Conrad several times regarding the unpaid bill to Boyer. Each time he said Conrad advised he was in the process of taking care of it. After Boyer was never paid, Ferry said he filed a lien on his property for $28,000, or what Conrad owed for the geothermal system with late fees.
When asked, Ferry testified that he “couldn’t even imagine” how many times he attempted to contact Conrad about finishing the construction of his home. He said that in the end, he had to hire other people to finish the remaining work.
Boyer testified next for the commonwealth. He told the jurors that he provided Conrad with an estimate for a geothermal system for Ferry’s home in October of 2009. Boyer said Conrad paid an initial deposit of $2,835.85, or 10 percent, for them to start installing the geothermal system.
Then, in January of 2010, Boyer said a second bill was sent to Conrad for 80 percent, or $22,686.84, as the geothermal unit was 90 percent installed at the Ferry home. Boyer said that Conrad never paid the second bill and due to that non-payment, the third statement to Conrad a couple months later was for the total remaining balance.
According to Boyer, he tried multiple means to get paid by Conrad. He said he offered to help Conrad secure financing and faxed him applications. However, he said that Conrad never responded and instead wanted to make payments, which he turned down and asked for full payment.
Boyer eventually asked Conrad if he had been paid for the geothermal system. At that point, Conrad related that he had received full payment, but he’d done something else with the money. Because he never received payment from Conrad, Boyer said that he put a $28,000 lien on the Ferry property, as it was his only way to get paid for his work.
Officer Josh Johnston of the Sandy Township police was the commonwealth’s final witness. On Oct. 24, 2012, he was contacted by Ferry about his agreement with Conrad to construct a home in Treasure Lake with a geothermal system. Ferry also advised he’d paid for the construction in full, but Conrad never completed the home.
Johnston said that he subsequently collected documentation, such as checks and invoices, from both Ferry and Boyer. These documents, he said, supported the claims of both Ferry and Boyer and resulted in him filing criminal charges against Conrad.
Conrad testified in his own defense. In October of 2009, he parted ways with his employer who had a contract to construct a home for Ferry. After that he contacted Ferry, who wanted him to take over the project. Conrad said he’d developed home designs and proposals for Ferry, and they ultimately reached an agreement.
During his testimony, Conrad said he received payments from Ferry, and doesn’t dispute he received full payment. He said these payments were deposited into his personal checking account for his construction business. Ferry said he had about three other projects when he started the Ferry home and continued to bid on others.
Additionally, Conrad said that he had probably a dozen different sub-contractors and had them working on other jobs, too. Toward the end of the construction of Ferry’s home, Conrad admitted he was trying to finish it up on his own in August of 2010.
At that time, he said Ferry had inquired about the slow progress on finishing the home. He said that he explained to Ferry that he was also working on other construction projects. When asked, he said at that point, he was close to 95 percent done with Ferry’s home, which he never completed.
According to Conrad, Ferry had contacted him venting his frustration. “He basically said he was done dealing with me,” he said. When asked, Conrad said he didn’t try to reach out to Ferry, as that didn’t appear to be what Ferry wanted at the time.
So far as the geothermal system, Conrad said he handled it by phone and then sent blueprints to Boyer. He said that he provided an initial deposit of $2,835.85 to Boyer Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning to start the installation of the geothermal system.
When asked, Conrad said he didn’t recall receiving a second bill from Boyer. When he received the bill for the balance, Conrad said he didn’t pay it, as the geothermal system wasn’t up and running at that point. When the geothermal system was completely installed, he received the final bill again but he couldn’t make the payment.
When Boyer called about his failure to make payment, Conrad said he explained that he was having money troubles and his business was failing. He said Boyer offered to arrange for him to get financing and even sent him applications, which he didn’t complete and return.
“I looked them over and started to complete them, but I stopped because I knew I wouldn’t get it,” he said. Then, he said one other time, he spoke to Boyer’s assistant who tried to obtain financing for him but was rejected twice. Later during rebuttal, Boyer told jurors that he neither directed his assistant to do this, nor would she have done it by phone.
Conrad said he offered to make a down payment and then subsequent monthly payments to Boyer. However, he said Boyer rejected this offer and asked for full payment for the geothermal system. Ultimately, he said that Boyer filed a civil action and won a judgment against him for the balance of the unpaid geothermal system. That judgment, Conrad said, resulted in a sheriff’s sale of his pick-up truck, which never occurred as he filed for bankruptcy.
Under cross-examination by Shaw, Conrad indicated that he never responded to the judgment and ignored it. “Scott Boyer didn’t win anything,” said Shaw. “You ignored the darn thing, just like you did all along with Scott Boyer.” When asked by Shaw if he ever sent payments to Boyer, Conrad said no because Boyer didn’t want payments, he wanted full payment.
In fall of 2009, Conrad explained to jurors that he started his construction business as a sole proprietorship. He admitted that he didn’t have any business plan in place. He proceeded to bid on a lot of jobs and got a few and used sub-contractors that he’d worked with in the past.
So far as the Ferry home, he claimed that he underbid the job. He also claimed to underestimating expenses, especially in terms of the sub-contractors. He said all of the money Ferry paid him went toward the construction of that home; however, he ran out of money to cover his expenses.
Under cross-examination by Shaw, Conrad admitted when paid for different jobs, he deposited the money into a business account. However, when Shaw asked about his accounting practices, Conrad admitted he comingled all of his projects’ payments and had no way of tracking them separately.
By November of 2010, Conrad said his construction business had pretty much failed and he couldn’t go on. After that he took a sales position at Home Depot in Pittsburgh for several months. In January of 2013, he filed for bankruptcy and listed Boyer and Ferry on his list of people he owed money to. For little more than a year, he said he’s been making partial payments on his debt.
In his closing, Ryan argued that Conrad doesn’t dispute he’d been paid in full and didn’t complete the construction of Ferry’s home. He said Conrad also doesn’t dispute that he received payment for the geothermal system but never paid Boyer in full.
Ryan argued that Conrad didn’t belong in this particular courtroom. He said Conrad was civilly liable but not criminally liable. “There’s a big difference between guilty and liable,” said Ryan. “Keith Conrad was just a poor businessman. He tried and it didn’t work out for him.”
In his closing, Shaw countered, saying this courtroom was the only place for Ferry and Boyer to get justice. He said Boyer tried suing Conrad and got nothing. “Conrad’s contract [with Ferry] didn’t say I’ll put all the money into one pot, pay bills and then if I have money, pay for the geothermal system,” said Shaw.