Builder convicted in Del. on 34 counts Angry Md. customers testified against ex-resident Kendall

November 26, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Custom homebuilder Jerome Kendall -- whose 13 years in Maryland left angry customers from Reisterstown to the Eastern Shore -- was convicted in Delaware yesterday on 34 criminal charges including theft, racketeering and perjury stemming from business in that state.

The Delaware Superior Court jury of seven men and five women returned guilty verdicts after five days of deliberation and after hearing over the past five weeks from eight Delaware families and several of the suave 52-year-old's Maryland customers.

Kendall -- a former Lutherville resident who lives in Delaware and who legally changed his last name from Knoedler in 1988 -- was held without bail pending sentencing Feb. 7, according to Thomas A. Stevens, deputy attorney general for Delaware.

Joseph Hurley of Wilmington, Kendall's attorney, did not return phone calls.

"I'd love to see that sucker get 50 years," said Walter Collins, former mayor of Secretary, Md., a tiny town near Cambridge where Kendall built a 22-home development in 1989. Town officials were so unsatisfied with the work they stopped it and adopted a town building code for the first time.

Collins, who testified in the Delaware trial, said yesterday that Kendall "could convince you of anything at all. He was smooth, a wheeler-dealer."

David Tyner, a Reisterstown man who won a $41,000 judgment against Kendall's construction company in 1984 but never collected a penny, also testified in Delaware.

"I'm just glad he's put away. We can go party," he said, noting that the years of aggravation have taken an emotional toll -- and that his custom home still is not complete.

The Marylanders' testimony was important, Stevens said, both in obtaining theft convictions and on the most serious charge Kendall faced: criminal racketeering. Delaware's version of the federal anti-racketeering law carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

Stevens said the conviction proves that "Kendall Construction was in the business of stealing money from his customers. He was in the business of committing crimes," and not simply a contractor having civil disputes with customers.

Kendall also was convicted on 25 counts of felony theft, one count of perjury and 17 counts of improper retention of contractor funds, a criminal violation in Delaware, said Stevens, who was chief prosecutor.

Together, the convictions would add up to a possible maximum jail sentence of 124 years, Stevens said.

Kendall's pattern for years, in Maryland and in Delaware, was to quickly start new homes, draw construction loan money ahead of the work, then walk off the jobs when complaints began to climb -- leaving customers and suppliers out thousands of dollars.

In Maryland, Kendall typically filed liens against his outraged customers, who then faced expensive legal costs to fight him. He also owed thousands of dollars to unpaid suppliers who placed liens on the homeowners' half-finished homes.

Kendall lived a charmed legal life for years, driving luxury cars and living in homes he built along the way.

Eleven years ago, when he was still known as Jerome Knoedler, he fled Baltimore County rather than face a criminal trial after the foundation of a custom home he had started partially collapsed. County building inspectors blamed improper grading.

He later was arrested in Philadelphia and extradited in that case, which a Baltimore County judge threw out, declaring the county's building code too vague.

He moved to the Eastern Shore, changed his name to Kendall and continued with his building operations -- including the ill-fated development in Secretary.

In 1992, Kendall was convicted of defrauding a Salisbury bank after misrepresenting his financial circumstances on loan papers. He received a 10-month jail sentence, of which he served half.

Despite numerous complaints in Maryland, he was never prosecuted by the state, however. Except for Montgomery County, Maryland does not require licensing of home builders.

Among those pleased with yesterday's conviction was Evan Al-Chokhachy, a Delaware resident and the catalyst for the Delaware investigation. Al-Chokhachy says he and his wife, Barbara, lost $90,000 and their hopes for a dream house in nearby Cecil County, Md.

Although Al-Chokhachy's house was in Maryland, legal authorities in Maryland did not charge Kendall with any Maryland crimes because of a loophole in the 1986 Custom Home Protection Act -- a law inspired by Kendall's earlier activities in Baltimore County.

But because the contracts for the house were signed in Delaware, the case proceeded there.

"We're thrilled," said Al-Chokhachy of the verdicts.

Pub Date: 11/26/96

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