Homebuilder guilty of fraud

Article Courtesy of The Daytona Beach News-Journal


Published June 24, 2010

BUNNELL -- As a bailiff locked a pair of handcuffs on Herbert Heron in a Flagler County courtroom Tuesday, the former homebuilder turned toward the customers he had just been convicted of defrauding.

Heron muttered something about how he hoped homebuyers Anthony and Lisa Rappa were happy now.

But one person who wasn't happy was Senior Judge Richard O. Watson, who demanded Heron tell him what he'd just said.

When Heron, the former president of Canterbury Estates Homes, stood silently, the judge warned him he would not ask him again. Heron then mumbled something about the cost of the house he had contracted to build for the Rappas. Watson warned Heron about talking to the Rappas.

"If you do that again, I'll hold you in contempt and give you 180 days right now," Watson said.

Heron, 61, is theoretically facing up to 30 years in prison after a jury found him guilty Tuesday of grand theft by fraud over $100,000, a first-degree felony. The jury of four women and two men took just under two hours to return the guilty verdicts on that and three other charges.

They also found Heron guilty of misapplication of payments received for property improvements over $1,000, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. They also found him guilty of two first-degree misdemeanors each punishable by up to a year in jail: false representation as a license or certificate holder and operating without a qualifying agent. A sentencing date has not been set, but Heron is unlikely to get anywhere near the maximum sentence.

This is the second time Prosecutor Dennis Craig has won a case against Heron, who was convicted in October 2008 of grand theft and misapplication of construction funds and unlicensed contracting and contracting without a qualifying agent.

Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond sentenced Heron in March 2009 to 13 months in prison followed by five years' probation in that case. Heron remained free while he appealed his conviction. That is until Tuesday.

Heron's partner, Noel Richardson, pleaded no contest to one count of grand theft of more than $100,000 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 10 years' probation in April 2009.

In the most recent case, Heron was accused of taking money but not finishing the Rappas' house in Palm Coast. Craig said Heron took about $114,000 of the Rappas' money and used it for something other than building their home.

The Rappas ended up having to pay twice, since they had to pay off liens, which had been placed on the house by unpaid subcontractors, Craig said.

Heron continued to use a contractor's license nearly two months after the man, Eugene Thomas, died on Jan. 5, 2006. Heron's side put on an attorney qualified as an expert on contracting law to testify about the issue.

Craig hammered away at the expert's testimony related to the deceased contractor.

"He is dead and of course it takes a lawyer to tell you that a dead man can qualify a business to construct homes," Craig told the jury. "I don't think anybody else is going to tell you that a dead man can do the qualifying. A qualifying agent has all kinds of obligations. All kinds of responsibilities. None of which can be done by a dead man."