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Company, president must repay over $7,000

April 08, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

A Clear Spring custom building firm and its president were found guilty Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court of misdemeanor breach of trust and ordered to repay over $7,000 to two homeowners.

In addition, Triple J Builders President Lana Welch, of 11613 Rocky Meadow Road, was given a 90-day suspended jail sentence by Judge John H. McDowell.

"I hope this raises the consciousness of custom homebuilders now that some have been prosecuted," McDowell said.

He stopped short of jailing Welch, as requested by Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael, who has prosecuted several similar cases in recent years.

Angela and William Routzahn argued that they are out about $25,000 in their dealings with Triple J Builders. They will get $7,347.33 within 120 days as per the judge's order.

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"We hired Triple J to build our dream house and it was a nightmare," said Angela Routzahn, adding that some things still aren't completed.

"I'm sympathetic to the Routzahns, but I don't think jail should be considered," McDowell said. "This wasn't willful or malicious."

Those two factors must be present for conviction on the more serious felony components of the Maryland Custom Home Protection Act of 1986, which requires contractors to use the owners' money to pay suppliers and subcontractors.

The Routzahns contracted with Triple J Builders in 1997 to build them a $116,000 home at 21567 Ridenour Road, according to testimony.

As the work progressed, the Routzahns were to provide Triple J with varying amounts of money to be paid to subcontractors working on the house.

Three such payments were made, said Angela Routzahn, then subcontractors began complaining that they hadn't been paid.

"I have to get paid to pay people," Welch said.

But under questioning by Michael, Welch admitted that she paid herself for her work before paying subcontractors on the Routzahn job.

Welch also said some of the Routzahns' money was used to pay on a running account at The Lumber Yard, where Triple J bought lumber for all its jobs.

Welch said she did not know that money received from clients had to be kept in trust and spent only on their jobs, as the law requires.

"All I ever knew to do was to put money in my business account and pay our expenses," Welch said.

"While a company doesn't have to have a trust account, the money must be handled as if it were," Michael said.

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