Annapolis builder convicted of handling money improperly

Elderly couple contracted with him to build retirement home

March 07, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis builder was convicted yesterday of failing to hold money in trust for a deaf, elderly couple who had contracted with him to build their retirement house.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck found Herbert Lincoln Wellander, 44, guilty of violating the state's Custom Home Protection Act.

In 1998 until mid-1999, Don and Pauline Pettingill paid Wellander about $68,000 on a $94,000 contract to build a small home for them in Heritage Harbour, west of Annapolis. They gave him much of their retirement savings, the Pettingills said.

"The house should have been ready for drywall, but the exter- ior was not done," Assistant State's Attorney Clifford C. Stoddard Jr. told Manck as a sign-language expert interpreted the court proceedings for the couple.

Wellander asked the couple for more money, but they refused, terminated the contract, barred him from the property and hired other workers, Stoddard said.

"We finished it by subcontracting ourselves," Pauline Pettingill, 74, a former printer, said outside court. "It cost us approximately $86,000 to finish. I gave him $68,000, and I don't know what he did with it."

She and Don Pettingill, 80, a retired assistant to the vice president of Galludet University, moved into the house in September, she said.

With her husband weakened by cancer, Mrs. Pettingill said, she also worries about whether Wellander paid his subcontractors and whether they might file liens against the property.

"It would please us if we could recoup some of our loss, and we also would like to be sure all of Wellander's subcontractors were paid and will not attach liens to our deed," she said.

How much restitution Wellander will be asked to pay the couple is to be determined in a sentencing hearing May 29.

Stoddard said he would seek a suspended sentence and supervised probation. But "as a carrot to the defendant," Stoddard said, he would not argue against probation before judgment, which would allow Wellander to ask to have his record expunged, if the couple were repaid.

Stoddard said Wellander should repay about $38,000.

Gary E. Davis, attorney for Wellander, said the figure should be much lower.

Cost overruns resulting from unforeseen problems ate up much of the money the Pettingills gave Wellander, he said.

He said his client did not intend to defraud the couple, which he argued to Manck would make the crime a misdemeanor, not a felony.

"He believes that there is a great deal of difference between what they say he did and what he actually did," Davis said later.

Davis said Wellander ran into water, which required extra labor, time and materials.

"It was not accounted for within the draws of the contract," he said.

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