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‘Project manager’ in fraud case to be sentenced for unrelated grand theft

Photo: Mugshot of accused "project manager" William “Charlie” Jones

Among the cast of characters in a criminal case involving a contractor accused of bilking three sets of Vero Beach homeowners out of more than $150,000 is a “project manager” who is scheduled to be sentenced for grand theft next week in a case unrelated to the contractor’s alleged crimes.

William “Charlie” Jones’ name appears again and again in the arrest warrant narrative that landed Vero Lake Estates resident Mark Murphy in jail last month. Jones seemed to have had the most contact with the homeowners, including two on the island, all of whom hired Murphy’s company, Absolute Building and Restoration.

Jones was arrested here in September 2014 on two felony charges. The state ended up not prosecuting him on a charge of “uttering a forged bill, check or draft,” but Jones was found guilty in a jury trial in March of second-degree grand theft (at least $20,000 but less than $100,000).

It is not clear if Jones was already working for Murphy at that time of the events that resulted in the felony charges, or if he went to work for the contractor after being arrested, because both Jones and Murphy have declined to be interviewed by law enforcement, according to sheriff’s Lt. Milo Thornton, who investigated the Murphy case for more than a year with State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office.

Murphy’s defense attorney Bobby Guttridge said Jones is no longer employed by his client’s company and that he was terminated after the criminal allegations against Jones came to light.

Jones has not been charged in the case involving money collected for home renovations never completed.  Thornton said Murphy, as the state-licensed general contractor, is the one legally responsible for fulfilling commitments to his clients.

Guttridge said last week that Jones’ involvement in the company explains how a longtime honest businessman became mired in the complaints that led to criminal charges. Jones, Guttridge claims, directly led to Murphy’s downfall.

“We will show that Mr. Murphy has actually been victimized by Charlie Jones, and so have other contractors,” Guttridge said, adding that the allegations occurred within a “narrow time frame” when Jones was employed by Murphy and that “before that and after that there hasn’t been any problem.”

“The claims are either exaggerated or untrue,” Guttridge said. “And the facts are going to look very different once that’s fully investigated and known.”

In addition to the criminal charges upon which Murphy was arrested, and later released on bail, the contractor is embroiled in a variety of civil, small-claims cases, including one with south barrier island resident John Kane. Kane says he is finally having his home remodeled by a different contractor after losing more than $50,000 paid to Murphy for the job.

“In March of 2015 Mr. Murphy provided to us invoices in excess of $50,000.00 along with a list of material he was to purchase with these funds. Let me make it clear, these funds were provided to Mr. Murphy ONLY for the purpose of buying our material,” Kane wrote to investigators who pursued the case.

“Mr. Murphy requested we wire the funds to his account at Wells Fargo immediately so he could get all of our materials ordered by week’s end and not to delay our job. We wired the funds (and later paid an additional $8k to purchase siding – which he also stole.) That is the last we saw of our money. No money No material we were ROBBED!”

Kane has been on a bit of a crusade to bring Murphy to justice, and alerted Vero Beach 32963 to Murphy’s arrest after the warrant was issued.

“Mr. Murphy promised time and time again, our items were ordered, we would be getting an accounting ‘next week’, Mr. Murphy went so far as to lie and provide false statements  showing material had been paid for when it had not. Clearly an attempt to defraud us,” Kane wrote to investigators.

“Mark Murphy stole our money, he had no intent to purchase this material or he would have ‘that week’  as he stated several times. This was money we had saved for years, money we had budgeted to complete the renovation of this home we had purchased to share with our children, our friends, our family,” Kane wrote.

Kane said he became aware, after the fact, that Jones had a criminal record.

Guttridge declined to comment on any of the related civil or license issues involving Murphy, as he is only representing him in the criminal case.