Delaware judge giveshomebuilder 8-year term on 34 counts Marylanders testified about being victimized by Kendall over 13 years

February 12, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, Del. -- A Delaware judge has sentenced former Maryland homebuilder and convicted swindler Jerome J. Kendall to prison and ordered him never to operate a building business again.

Kendall, 52, better known by his birth name of Jerome Knoedler to angry Maryland customers he left from Reisterstown to Ocean City, was sentenced yesterday to eight years without parole, 29 years of supervised probation and an $8,750 fine. Restitution will be determined in a separate hearing.

Kendall, who changed his name in 1988, was convicted Nov. 25 on 34 criminal counts, including theft, racketeering and perjury, in building homes for Delaware residents.

Superior Court Judge Richard R. Cooch also ordered that Kendall never be a self-employed builder again and that, on his release, his employment status be reported directly to the judge.

Citing witnesses from Maryland who testified during a five-week trial about Kendall's un-savory business methods over 13 years, Cooch said, "I believe you made a decision many years ago to swindle customers. I see excuses offered. I don't see any remorse."

Kendall, who grew up in East Baltimore and formerly lived in Lutherville, appeared in court yesterday in prison garb. He insisted he is not guilty of any crimes.

"I didn't steal any money," the balding, stooped man told Cooch. "I never tried to hurt anybody."

But the judge, prosecutors and Kendall's victims from both states say that's exactly what he did.

Thomas A. Stevens, deputy attorney general for Delaware, told the judge that he "should not waste time trying to rehabilitate Jerry Kendall. He's a sophisticated, pathological con man" who still blames all his troubles on his customers, his twin brother, Tom, and his lawyers.

"He needs to go to prison for at least 10 years," Stevens said.

Joseph Hurley, Kendall's attorney, did not address the judge and refused to speak to a reporter.

According to testimony, Kendall's pattern was to use his engaging personality to gain confidence of buyers, start work with their construction loan money and then walk off the job, often leaving defects and unpaid suppliers who would file liens against the house.

Buyers often lost thousands of dollars, ran up huge legal bills and lost their dream houses or were stuck with problems they couldn't afford to repair.

Kendall declared personal bankruptcy in 1983 and frequently changed corporate names, allowing him to avoid civil judgments. But he always drove expensive vehicles and lived in new homes he built with money and materials from jobs.

David Tyner of Reisterstown, who was victimized by Kendall in 1984, won a $41,000 civil judgment against one of his firms, but never collected a penny. "I'm glad he's going to have a lot of time to think about what he's done," Tyner said.

Complaints about the builder's activities in Maryland sparked enactment of a law in 1986 regulating builders of custom homes and caused the Dorchester County town of Secretary to enact its first building code.

In 1989, Kendall built a 22-home development in Secretary, but officials stopped the project after complaints about shoddy work. "He's just bad news," former Mayor Walter Collins said yesterday.

Kendall's road to conviction in Delaware started in 1992 in Cecil County, Md., where he began building a $300,000 custom home for Evan Al-Chokhachy of Delaware. That year, Kendall was convicted in federal court in Baltimore of defrauding a Salisbury bank. He served five months.

"I'm happy on one hand, sad on the other," said Al-Chokhachy, who lost more than $90,000 and had to give up on his half-built home. "The man should serve 100 years. That's what he deserves."

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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