Judge allows criminal case against contractor to move forward

Homeowner disagreements with contractors aren’t unusual in court. They are a little less common in criminal court.

A State College attorney argued Wednesday that his client, Justin Melanson, 35, of Bellefonte, never should have had his case brought before District Judge Tom Jordan for a preliminary hearing on charges of theft by deception and home improvement fraud.

Sean McGraw told the judge the matter constituted only a breach of contract law and should only have been handled civilly.

The case started in October, when Melanson met Katherine Lindeburg at Home Depot. She testified that they started talking about vacuums. The subject got around to paint, then renovations. Lindeburg said Melanson told her he was going to be doing a house-flipping series that wasn’t on the air yet.

It wasn’t long, she said, before Melanson gave Lindeburg a contract, proposing a deal to improve the house she wanted to sell.

She gave him $7,000, half of the money for the work. Changes were proposed. What if she added a fence and a pergola and did work on the porch to increase curb appeal? That meant another $5,000 up front. By the time it was over, Lindeburg testified, she had given Melanson $15,475.

The work, however, didn’t follow. Lindeburg told the court that only about 40 percent of her house ended up painted, and only one coat at that. Railings were taken off and not put back.

McGraw argued his client was hospitalized with a serious illness in November, leaving him unable to finish the job on time.

State College police Detective Ralph Ralston said he filed theft and fraud charges in the case because not only was Lindeburg’s money not returned, but in an interview with police, Melanson admitted to “robbing Peter to pay Paul” in the case, using Lindeburg’s money to complete other jobs.

Lindeburg obtained a civil judgment against Melanson in March for $11,655, but Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Foster said that filing a civil suit did not take away the right to pursue criminal charges.

Jordan agreed, finding cause to bind Melanson over for trial on the charges.