Stephen Gibbons, Assistant District Attorney   CONTACT PERSON:
Cindy Seeley Hendrickson, Deputy District Attorney
Elder Fraud Unit
(408) 792-2551   For release on January 19, 2006     PROSECUTORS FEAR CONTRACTOR MAY HAVE ADDITIONAL VICTIMS   In March and April of 2005, Chris James Merritt, 47, of San Jose, who did business as, "Works of Merritt Construction," contracted with 72-year-old Velma Fields of San Jose to put an addition on her home. After receiving payments totaling $27,300.00 to begin work on the $46,000.00 contract, which violates the law limiting such payments to $1000.00 or 10% of the contract, whichever is less, Mr. Merritt abandoned the job.  The defendant told the victim he used the money to fund other jobs and that he was filing for bankruptcy. The District Attorney’s Office charged Mr. Merritt with elder financial abuse, grand theft, taking an excessive down payment and failing to obtain workers compensation insurance. He was arrested on August 9, 2005 upon his return from vacation from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.   Since that time, additional victims have been discovered, including Clifford Luscher of Sunnyvale who paid Mr. Merritt over $100,000.00 to begin work on a $180,000.00 contract. Mr. Merritt abandoned the job after completing less than $10,000.00 worth of work. In December 2005, prosecutors filed a second case against Mr. Merritt charging him with grand theft of an amount exceeding $100,000.00, diversion of construction funds, fraudulent use of someone else’s contractor’s license, contracting without a license, and taking an excessive down payment. Bail has been set at $100,000 on the warrant for Mr. Merritt’s arrest. If convicted of all the currently pending charges, the defendant faces up to 7 years 4 months in prison.   The District Attorney’s Office has learned that at least three other homeowners have paid Merritt for work he never performed, including one who claims to have paid him over $50,000.00 for a job which he later abandoned. In some cases subcontractors are claiming that Mr. Merritt never paid them for work they performed. Victims report that Mr. Merritt is a very convincing talker. Anyone who feels they may be a victim should contact Contractor State License Board Investigator Gene Bell at (415) 469-6216 or Deputy District Attorney Cindy Seeley Hendrickson at (408) 792-2551.   # # #

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