By Patrick Winderl
A Billings man has been accused of stealing more than $13,000 from four Havre residents by taking payments to repair their homes and not completing the work.
Wesley D. Bartz Jr., 31, was charged Wednesday in state District Court in Havre with three felony counts of theft and one misdemeanor count of theft.
According to the charging document, Bartz used the sales agreement of a defunct company to sign contracts with the four victims, asked for down payments, and either partially completed the work or performed no work at all.
The Havre Police Department and Hill County Sheriff's Office began investigating late last year after several people filed complaints against Bartz.
According to the charging document, Bartz signed a contract with Kelly and Carmen Schafer in Havre on Sept. 9 to build a deck for their residence and requested a $1,000 payment in advance.
Carmen Schafer said the couple contacted Bartz after seeing his advertisement in the Havre Daily News.
Bartz was scheduled to begin work on the deck on Sept. 15, the document said, but to date, no work has been done.
After signing the contract with the Schafers, Bartz went next door and spoke to their neighbor, DeeAnn Brese, the document said.
"I was looking for someone to redo the roof because of the hail storm we had," Brese said Wednesday. "(Bartz) had been over at the neighbors, and then he came over to my place. He gave me an estimate, which I thought was pretty good."
Brese agreed to pay half of the money up front - $4,325, Brese said. The work was to include siding on the house and garage.
Bartz performed some work on the garage, but didn't do any work on the house, according to the charging document.
"The last time I called him, he said because it was so late, he would put in rain gutters for free, so I thought that was a pretty good deal and was willing to wait a little longer," Brese said. "And then I never got anything."
Meanwhile, Bartz had signed contracts with at least two other Havre residents, the charging document said.
On Sept. 13, he finalized a sales agreement to re-side the home of a Havre woman, who paid him $2,800 up front, the charging document alleges. No work has been completed, and the contact numbers given to the woman have been disconnected, the document said.
The woman, who could not be reached for comment, filed a complaint with the Hill County Sheriff's Office on Dec. 30.
On Oct. 13, Bartz was hired by Havre resident Ray Hentschel to re-side his house. Hentschel said he had gotten bids from several contractors, and Bartz's seemed the most attractive.
"He seemed like the one that had a good deal and was maybe a little lower than the other people that gave bids," he said Wednesday.
Hentschel agreed to pay Bartz $4,900 up front, and the work was to be completed by Nov. 1, according to the charging document.
When that date came and went, Hentschel said, he was not overly concerned because he had been in contact with Bartz and knew that there were a lot of construction projects being done around town.
Bartz kept delaying the project, Hentschel said, eventually saying it would be done in the spring.
On Feb. 6, Hentschel contacted the police, according to the charging document.
During the investigation, police and sheriff's deputies learned that Bartz had been using sales agreements for a company that was no longer in business.
The former co-owner of that company told deputies that he and Bartz had worked together at another company, and decided to go into business together during the summer of 2003. The man told police that the company lasted only a short while, but that Bartz was still using the company's sales agreements.
Bartz's former partner is not a suspect in the thefts, Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson said this morning.
In February, police tried to contact Bartz via e-mail because his contact numbers had been disconnected. He called them on Feb. 16, according to the charging document.
Bartz told police he had sent letters to the alleged victims offering to complete the work or refund their money, the document said. None of the victims was reimbursed, according to the charging document.
Peterson said that initially it appeared that the county did not have a case against Bartz. The state has to prove that Bartz had criminal intent to deprive the alleged victims of their money.
The amount of time that has elapsed makes it "very clear that Bartz has no intention of returning the money or completing the work," Peterson said.
Peterson said she has asked District Judge David Rice to issue an arrest warrant for Bartz, who is believed to be in Billings.
Peterson said she believes more people may come forward with complaints.
"I certainly think there may be other people out there. There may be other people who were only taken for $500 or $600, but they should be included in this as well," she said.
Peterson added that there may be possible victims in other communities.
"When our officers spoke to his wife, she specifically told us that he was traveling state to state doing that kind of work," Peterson said.