Three plead guilty in Hurricane Michael repair scam

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PANAMA CITY, FL – OCTOBER 10: An American flag flies from a broken flag pole after hurricane Michael passed through the downtown area on October 10, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Three men plead guilty to stealing from Hurricane Michael survivors, according to federal prosecutors.

The trip took more than $300,000 from residents as down payments for work that was never done.

Christopher Mayes and Christian Pantazonis are accused of going door to door in the Panama City area to acquire construction contracts for Newton Remodeling, prosecutors wrote. Mayes and Pantazonis were joined by Edward Newton in the scheme, officials added.

They promised that the repair work would begin immediately, telling homeowners they required a down payment to obtain building materials and permits or to “place the homeowner at the front of the line” for repairs, prosecutors wrote.

As part of the fraud, they occasionally sent workers to complete small projects, such as removing damaged drywall or replacing shingles, in order to lead the homeowners to believe the major repairs were underway. When homeowners began to complain about the lack of work, Newton told them in writing or by phone that he would return the money he collected for the work never performed.

However, on May 25, 2019, he sent each homeowner a letter stating that he did not intend to complete any of the contracted work and would not return any money.

“To anyone who endured the devastation of Hurricane Michael, it is almost inconceivable that anyone could stoop so low as to prey on the storm’s victims in such a craven way,” said U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe. “These men took advantage of trusting people in their time of greatest need, and I am pleased that our office has brought these thieves to justice.”

Each defendant pled guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces a maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing hearings are scheduled for July 2, 2020, at 1:00pm at the United States Courthouse in Tallahassee.

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