A Northumberland County man accused of criminally defrauding two local couples over home improvement work was acquitted by a jury Thursday.
Robert Kolovich, 57, former owner of Selinsgrove-based Lifetime Choice Windows, was found not guilty of two felony home improvement fraud charges after a two-day trial presided over by Clinton County Senior Judge J. Michael Williamson.
Kolovich was charged in Centre County in June 2014, when state police arrested him in connection with a contract with a Walker Township couple in 2013 and taking $6,700 as a down payment.
Additional charges were added the next month involving Kolovich signing a contract to renovate a deck on a Potter Township home, with Kolovich having taken more than $5,700 down. Both families reported to police that no work had been done to the homes and that the money had not been returned at the time of his arrest.
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He initially faced eight charges in the two cases, the fraud charges and felony counts of deceptive business practices and theft by deception. By the time jurors returned their verdicts Thursday, they only had to ponder the two home improvement fraud charges.
Richard Settgast, Kolovich’s public defender, argued before the trial that the state deceptive business practice statute was unconstitutional. Settgast maintained that the statute violated Kolovich’s due process rights because it required him to prove he acted without a guilty mind or intent, shifting the burden of proof from the commonwealth to the defendant.
Williamson agreed and threw those charges out earlier this month. The judge dismissed the others during trial.
Assistant District Attorney Adam Morris argued that this was an clear example of fraud and that Kolovich’s actions proved his intent to pocket the money. He pointed to the Centre County residents’ testimony and to testimony of alleged victims from other counties as rebuttal witnesses. Kolovich was charged in other counties and is incarcerated pending trial in another county.
Many had the same story. They told the jury that Kolovich did not contact them after visiting their homes to craft the contracts, never took building supplies to the homes and never returned. Calls to and voicemails left for Kolovich were not returned, they said, and he gave excuses such as staff leaving, weather or issues with suppliers as reasons for the work not beginning.
Witnesses also said they requested their money back, and only one out-of-county resident said a refund had been given, and that was after repeated calls and the involvement of an attorney.
“All they bought with their money was headaches and excuses,” Morris told the jury.
Kolovich testified Wednesday and maintained his innocence, saying he couldn’t refund the money because it was used immediately, either to buy materials or used to repay cash advances to fund the business. There were also unforeseen problems with a supplier, he said.
Kolovich said he “lost everything” because of the issues, including his home, vehicle and office, and had to return to work with a former employer to get by. He was unable to contact the customers because even his phones had been shut off and contact information lost when the office was closed, he said.
Settgast said that, although harm had been done to those who lost money and that they have a case in the civil arena, his client did not intentionally defraud the families but was merely unable to do the work or pay them back because of poor business decisions.
“That’s the key here,” Settgast said. “The act doesn’t make you a criminal, it makes you a civil defendant.”