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Homebuilder gets 10 days for bilking client

June 10, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

A homebuilder convicted in March of bilking a client out of $4,000 will spend the next 10 days in the Washington County Detention Center.

"I didn't try to rip anybody off," Ronald Jeffrey Kline said Thursday morning after Washington County Circuit Judge Donald Beachley sentenced him to 18 months in jail, suspending all but the 10 days for violation of a law governing escrow accounts.

With the $4,000 in restitution paid back on June 3, Kline was placed on probation for two years and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service. He will be fingerprinted, a key factor for the victim.

"Unless he's given a criminal record, someone else will get taken by him," said Christopher Gist, who paid Kline the $4,000 two years ago. "I just want other people to be able to look him up ... and not do business with him."

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Kline is employed by a Virginia contractor as a project manager overseeing several housing developments, according to his attorney, Scott Borison.

"He had a dream of starting his own business and it didn't work out," Borison said.

At the March 9 trial, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael said he was hoping for a four-year prison sentence for Kline.

Kline, 33, of 17914 Oak Ridge Drive, pleaded not guilty and was tried by Beachley on the one count of the Maryland Real Property statutes.

Christopher and Dawn Gist testified they signed a contract with Kline in August 1997, for lot 110 in Maugans Meadows. They said they paid $1,000 down and then $4,000 more, all of which by law was to be placed in an escrow account and not spent.

After a change of plans, the $1,000 later was returned on request to the Gists.

The Gists made several calls to Kline, who traded as J&J Custom Homes, to get the other $4,000 back, to no avail.

"He changed his phone number several times," Christopher Gist said Thursday.

A representative of Home Federal Savings Bank testified the Gists' $4,000 check was cashed by Kline.

A police investigator testified Kline told him he used the money to pay for water and sewer hookup to the Gists' lot, a violation of the escrow requirement of the law.

Kline told the investigator he was waiting for a refund from the county so he could pay the Gists back, but when that refund came through, Kline didn't pay the Gists.

"He got a $2,050 refund from the county in February 1998, and still he didn't pay them back. Indeed he spent it again," Michael said in March.

Kline's prior criminal record included a 1995 incident of impersonating a police officer for which he received probation before judgment for carrying a handgun, and a bad check conviction, also in 1995.

"I would like him to see the inside of a jail," Gist said. "I've been in a jail for two years trying to get my money back."

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