Trial Under Way for Contractor Accused of Failing to Complete Home Improvement Project

CLEARFIELD – The trial got under way Thursday for a local contractor who has been accused of failing to complete a home improvement project at an Osceola Mills residence.

Brian T. Barton, 46, of Philipsburg is standing trial on charges of theft by deception; theft by failure to make required disposition of funds; false statement to induce agreement for home improvement services; receives advance payment for services and fails to perform; and misrepresents or conceals contractor identifying information.

Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. is presenting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Barton is being represented by defense attorney Brian D. Jones of Philipsburg. President Judge Fredric Ammerman is presiding over the case, which will resume at 9 a.m. today in Clearfield County Court.

The victim testified first on behalf of the commonwealth. In September of 2013, she and her sister wanted to move into another home they owned to better accommodate their needs. But first she said they wanted to construct a two-bedroom and one-bathroom addition and expand the kitchen area, and she contacted Barton to develop a plan for the home improvement project.

On Sept. 8, 2013, she entered into a contract for her home improvement project with Barton. It was to be completed in nine months, or by May of 2014, for a total cost of $90,000. She paid Barton $30,000 by check up front with additional payments to be made to him over the course of the project.

The victim said on Nov. 22, 2013, she made a second $30,000 payment to Barton when he told her it was needed for additional supplies and labor. At that point, she said he’d put in the foundation with a “shell” frame. “I basically had nothing,” the victim told members of the jury.

On March 7, 2014 she also made a $10,000 payment to Barton for supplies and labor. She said she withheld the remaining $20,000 until he finished the project to her satisfactory and it received its final inspection. By the deadline in May of 2014, she alleged that Barton hadn’t completed the job, and she contacted an attorney in June of the same year.

In written correspondence through her attorney, the victim said she terminated Barton as the contractor for her home improvement project. She also requested that he reimburse her the $70,000 she had paid him, which she alleged he has failed to do. The victim said she subsequently contacted the Decatur Township police and reported Barton.

After Barton allegedly failed to complete the project, she asked James Williams, who is a building code official, to do an inspection, and he identified a number of deficiencies. Afterward she said she paid approximately $10,000 for siding installation and then $14,000 to Scott Lukens of Lukens Kitchens to just bring everything up to code in order for her home improvement project to move forward.

When asked under direct questioning by Shaw, the victim said the home still is not livable. Also, when asked, she said that Barton didn’t note his contractor license number on their contract agreement dated Sept. 8, 2013.

Under cross-examination by Jones, she admitted she’d paid Barton money for supplies and labor. She also admitted that he’d purchased supplies for her home improvement project, such as for the foundation and frame with the first payment, and metal roofing and a small deck with the second.

Jones asked the victim why she made the third payment to Barton of $10,000 if he wasn’t doing the work. She said he told her that it was necessary for supplies and labor for her home improvement project to progress.

However, later under re-direct, she pointed out that she didn’t pay Barton to purchase the wrong supplies, which was discovered during Williams’ inspection.

Bottom line, the victim testified, was the Barton didn’t come near finishing the project. She also mentioned that in May of 2014 that Barton offered to finish it if she paid the remaining $20,000, plus an additional $15 per hour. The victim said she declined the offer because she felt it would take a lot more money to finish and that it wouldn’t be done anyhow.

In November of 2015, Williams said he inspected the victim’s home improvement project. He said his inspection identified numerous deficiencies, such as the rafter size was too small; ceiling joists were too small; headers over openings (windows, doors, etc.) were too small; and the header size was too small for a small porch ceiling.

He said deficiencies were identified with the deck floor framing, and neither the electrical nor the plumbing work was completed and couldn’t be inspected. Overall, he said the victim’s home improvement project was “very incomplete” and it appeared that Barton wasn’t knowledgeable.

Williams said the existing part of the home is usable even though it doesn’t have a kitchen. However, he said the addition wasn’t livable and didn’t meet code.

Lukens testified next for the commonwealth and stated he was contacted by the victim to do work on her home. He said he contacted Williams and did a walk-through to identify deficiencies with the project that Barton allegedly failed to finish. Afterward Lukens said he met with the victim to discuss moving forward with the home improvement project.

Lukens said because the roof on the home was leaking in four, different sections, work started soon after he was contracted by the victim in November of 2015 to repair it. When he finished all work to just correct the deficiencies, as identified by Williams, it cost the victim $14,390.

On Dec. 22, 2014, Officer James Ward, who worked for the Decatur Township police at the time, requested Barton to come into the station regarding the victim’s complaint. During an interview, he said Barton told him he underbid the job and ran out of money to complete it.

He said Barton admitted that he neither intended on completing the job nor returning money to the victim. Additionally, Ward said Barton told him that he was waiting for the victim to sue him civilly to file for bankruptcy.

Jones started to present the defense’s case late Thursday. He called Chris Hockenberry, a local contractor, to testify, and he said every project has unforeseen costs come up. About a year ago, he said Barton asked him for an estimate on where he’d be if he’d been the contractor on the victim’s project.

When Jones asked him for the total he’d come up with, Hockenberry said $83,658. Under questioning by Shaw, Hockenberry said he’d been hired by Barton for projects and vice versa. He also admitted that he’d developed his estimate based only on information on paperwork provided by Barton.

When Shaw asked him if he was “trying to help out his friend,” Hockenberry denied he’d prepared the estimate and that he was there in court to help anyone. He said it was common practice for contractors to confer with each other in regards to estimates for projects.

When the trial resumes today, Jones will continue presenting the defense’s case. The attorneys will then give their closing arguments after which Ammerman will instruct members of the jury and send them into deliberations.

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