Family wins $9.5 million in lawsuit

October 09, 1997


Staff writer, Martinsburg

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - A family was awarded $9.5 million by a Morgan County Circuit Court jury Tuesday, but collecting the money from the three defendants in the case could prove impossible.

"None of them showed up," the plaintiffs' attorney Charles S. Trump IV said of the three defendants, James Macri, James Stachura and William Burns. Trump said depositions taken from the three men were read into evidence.

The trial began Tuesday morning and the six-member jury had the case by mid-afternoon, reaching its verdict at about 5 p.m., Trump said. They awarded Lawrence L. Pullman and his son and daughter-in-law, Lawrence S. "Sidney" and Judy Pullman, $525,000 in compensatory damages and another $3 million in punitive damages against each of the defendants.


"We're going to be going to the courthouse tomorrow to appeal the verdict," Stachura, of Germantown, Md., said Wednesday night.

Stachura said "I was never notified of the trial date" and the date he had in his daybook for the trial was next Tuesday. He said the trial had been scheduled for an earlier date, but was postponed.

Stachura declined to discuss specifics of the lawsuit.

The jury decided that the three men, along with the companies they ran, Chelco Associates Inc. and Heritage Construction Group of West Virginia Inc., had defrauded the Pullmans of $92,000 they had paid toward the construction of a house in southern Morgan County.

"It's going to be very hard to collect," Trump remarked Wednesday. He said Macri had filed for bankruptcy last year and was in Idaho. He believed Burns lives in Hedgesville, W.Va. He said he doubts Burns and Stachura have much in the way of assets to collect.

Judy Pullman said Wednesday she believed Burns and Stachura are running another company in Maryland. "I can't help but hope they're wildly successful," she said with a laugh.

All three skipped the trial, although Trump said, "They were actively defending the case up until two or three weeks ago." Even their lawyers withdrew from the case, he added.

Sidney and Judy Pullman bought the land in Morgan County in 1979 hoping to build a retirement home there, Trump explained. The $92,000 check given to Heritage in December 1994 was a downpayment for half the cost for the house the former Hedgesville company contracted to build.

The $92,000 was to be put in escrow and used for construction of the home. The money came from the sale of Lawrence L. Pullman's home.

The Pullmans were sued by a subcontractor when that company wasn't paid by the defendants. Trump said evidence showed Macri, Stachura and Burns had diverted some of the money to themselves.

Judy Pullman said the loss of the money and the subcontractor suit forced them to refinance their home in Springfield, Va., and live in the garage of the unfinished Morgan County house for six months.

"Included among the evidence the jury heard were witnesses from Virginia that had suffered a similar loss at the hands of these people," Trump said. The Manassas, Va., family had sued and won to get its$13,000 back, but hasn't been able to collect, according to Trump.

"It was a terrible experience, but we feel a little justice has been done at least," said Judy Pullman. She said the family was eventually able to finish their dream home.

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