Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for Charles County, Case No. 08-K-12-00638). Argued: February 5, 2015. Amy J. Bragunier, JUDGE.
ARGUED BY Jason J. George, Honors Attorney (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General of Maryland of Baltimore. MD) on brief FOR PETITIONER.
ARGUED BY Stephen J. Fuzesi, Assigned Public Defender (Williams & Connollv LLP of Washington, DC; Paul B. DeWolfe. Public Defender of Maryland of Baltimore. MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENT.
Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, JJ.
[442 Md. 423] Greene, J.
Essentially, this case requires us to consider, as we did in State v. Coleman, 423 Md. 666, 33 A.3d 468 (2011), the circumstances under which the breach of a residential construction or remodeling contract rises to the level of criminal conduct. We must determine whether the evidence adduced at trial concerning Respondent, Christopher David Manion's (" Manion" ) intent was sufficient to sustain a conviction for theft by deception under Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol., 2014 Supp.), § 7-104(b) of the Criminal Law Article (" Crim. Law" ). In doing so, this Court recognizes the need to ensure the sufficiency of the evidence and emphasizes the deference to be accorded to the trier of fact in weighing that evidence.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Following a bench trial in the Circuit Court for Charles County, Manion was
convicted of five counts of theft by deception and two counts of conspiracy to commit theft by deception, and sentenced to a term of sixty-five years, thirty years suspended. Manion's convictions stem from various construction and remodeling contracts entered into between 2009 and 2011 with several homeowners.
According to the testimony and other evidence presented at trial, Manion entered into a contract with Sue and Michael Murphy (the " Murphys" ) in August, 2009, to perform siding and window work on their home. Prior to being hired, Manion provided the Murphys with a piece of paper purportedly [442 Md. 424] containing a home remodeler's license number. Manion, however, had no such license. To be sure, the contract itself did not contain a license number.
After entering into the contract, the Murphys issued Manion's company, Comfort Construction, a check for $5,000 as an initial payment. Manion claimed shortly thereafter that the bank placed a ten-day hold on the check, and requested that the Murphys issue a second check for $5,000 in Manion's name personally. Records produced at trial confirmed that Manion cashed both checks on the same day. Moreover, the Murphys testified that, according to bank records, no such hold existed.
Although work was set to begin in September, 2009, no work was performed and no materials were delivered. Manion offered several excuses, which the trial court discredited as unconvincing, for his failure to perform. Manion contacted the Murphys on the date that the materials were to arrive and claimed that the delivery truck driver was involved in a horrific automobile accident and had been killed. Manion later informed the Murphys that he needed to leave the country to attend a funeral for the delivery driver. Manion was not heard from again until sometime in 2010. After the Murphys' repeated attempts to contact Manion, he refunded the Murphys $1,300 of the $10,000 owed in late 2010. The Murphys made several attempts to obtain a full refund. Ultimately, communications stopped after Manion's phone was disconnected.
[442 Md. 425]Lake Contract
Sharon and Kenneth Lake (the " Lakes" ) hired Manion in September, 2011, to re-roof their home. The contract entered into between the Lakes and Manion stated that Manion was " licensed, bonded, & insured," each assertion being false. Despite having paid Manion a total of $3,400, no work was performed and no materials were delivered.
The delivery truck, containing the roofing materials Manion claimed would arrive, never showed. Over the next couple of weeks the Lakes attempted, on several occasions, to contact Manion concerning his failure to perform. Similar to the Murphys, the Lakes were given several excuses as to why Manion was unavailable,
including that he was out-of-state or that a family member was sick and needed to be visited. Manion ultimately stopped returning the Lakes' calls. The week before trial, a representative of Manion came to the Lakes' house and offered them a refund of the money, which they accepted only after providing their testimony at trial in this case.
Manion contacted Clovia and Walter James (the " Jameses" ), having previously performed work on their home, looking for work in February, 2011. When the Jameses informed Manion that they had no need for construction work, but were in need of an electrician, Manion falsely claimed to be a licensed electrician as well. The Jameses ultimately contracted with Manion to replace an electrical box for $710. The following month, the Jameses also hired Manion to perform bathroom renovations. Manion's contracts stated that he was " licensed, bonded, & insured," which he was not. As part of the bathroom renovation project, the Jameses accompanied Manion on a trip to Lowe's Home Improvement Store in order to select materials that Manion claimed he would order, and paid Manion $1,094 for the materials in advance. The Jameses also split the cost of a dumpster to be used during the renovation [442 Md. 426] and paid Manion an additional $350 to use the dumpster themselves.
Despite having paid Manion, no work was started, much less completed, and no materials, or the dumpster, were delivered. The Jameses attempted repeatedly to contact Manion after Manion failed to perform. Manion provided the Jameses with numerous excuses for his failures. Manion, for instance, claimed to have ordered the wrong electrical box and that it needed to be reordered, that the dumpster could not be delivered because the Jameses' driveway was blocked, that he was unavailable because he needed to pick up his daughter from school, and that his father passed away and he needed to attend the funeral. Manion sporadically contacted the Jameses about a refund and ultimately offered the Jameses a refund the weekend before his trial was to start.
Geraldine Harsha (" Harsha" ) hired Manion in March, 2011, to perform siding and roofing work on her house for $6,071.92. In addition to Manion's oral representation that he was a licensed contractor, the contract with Harsha stated falsely that Manion was " licensed, bonded, & insured." Once again, Manion performed no work and failed to deliver any materials. When the work did not begin, Manion resorted to his usual excuses, including that a family member died and he needed to attend a funeral, or that he was unable to deliver materials because Harsha's driveway was blocked, despite being told that the cars could be moved. The week prior to trial, Harsha was offered a refund of her money for the first time.
Between September, 2009, and December, 2011, Pat and Frank Russell (the " Russells" ) hired Manion, along with Manion's partner Albert Styles (" Styles" ), to perform an extensive list of renovations throughout their home. Indeed, the projects included, among other things: renovating the master [442 Md. 427] bathroom, adding a cathedral ceiling in the master bedroom, installing hardwood flooring throughout several areas of the home, replacing fixtures and remodeling the kitchen, replacing windows and doors throughout the
home, remodeling the deck, installing a stone facade, paving the driveway, and extending the garage. Although Manion performed a significant amount of work, according to the testimony of Styles, nearly $150,000 of $350,000 paid by the ...