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Post date: September 8 2000

Hudson Valley Builder Pleads Guilty To Theft Of Customer Money

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that a former Hudson Valley home construction contractor has pled guilty to four felony counts related to stealing deposits and payments from customers.

John Cleary, currently residing in Connecticut, pled guilty in Dutchess County Court to two counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class D felony, one count of Attempted Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, also a class D felony, and one count of Repeated Failure to File a Tax Return, a class E felony, in full satisfaction of charges alleging that he had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from home owners in Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties.

Under the plea agreement, Cleary will be sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation and will be required to pay $180,000 in restitution during the period of his probation. He also will be required to execute judgments for $405,000 in restitution to his victims after the period of his probation. In addition, Cleary agreed to file tax returns for 1995 - 1999 and to set up a payment schedule with the Department of Taxation and Finance.

Clearly agreed to never again work in New York State as a home construction contractor.

"Under the law, home contractors are required to safeguard customer payments and use these payments for the client's specific project," Spitzer said. "A contractor who violates this legal trust and who uses that money for purposes other than the homeowner's construction or repair is guilty of larceny. Today's conviction will send a message to unscrupulous contractors that they will be held accountable when they violate the trust of their customers."

The Grand Larceny and Attempted Grand Larceny charges to which Cleary pled guilty alleged that he misappropriated money given to him by homeowners to use on their construction projects. Appearing before Dutchess County Court Judge Thomas J. Dolan, Cleary admitted that he stole:

  • more than $79,000 from Christopher and Deborah Beliveau in connection with the renovation of their home in Putnam Valley between September 1996 and February 1999;

  • more than $27,000 from Louis and Phyllis Benvenuto in connection with the construction of their home in Stormville between April 1996 and May 10, 1999; and

  • more than $15,000 from Alexander and Sharon Rivera in connection with the planned construction of a home in Putnam Valley between April 1997 and April 19, 1999.

Cleary also admitted that he failed to file tax returns for three consecutive years, a class E felony.

From 1995 to 1999, the defendant operated two Stormville-based construction companies, Victoria Brooke Homes, Inc. and J.P. Cleary Contracting, Inc., and a third company, AmericanDream Homes in Danbury, Connecticut. In March 2000, a Dutchess County Grand Jury returned a 26-count indictment against Cleary charging him with 12 counts of Grand Larceny in the third degree, six counts of Grand Larceny in the second degree, a class C felony; two counts of Grand Larceny in the fourth degree, and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the first degree, both class E felonies; and five counts of failure to file a state tax return, two of the counts being felonies and three being misdemeanors.

The indictment alleged that between November 1995 and August 1998, Cleary engaged in a scheme to defraud numerous home owners and prospective home owners by obtaining money from them through false promises and representations. The indictment further alleged that Cleary used the homeowners' money for his own purposes and, in each instance, failed to complete work on the project. In some instances, it was alleged that Cleary took substantial down payments and failed to perform any work at all. Today's plea was in full satisfaction of all of the charges contained in the indictment.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General William J. Comiskey. The Attorney General's office received assistance from the Dutchess County District Attorney and from the New York State Police.