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Commonwealth v. Succi

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 12, 2017


         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence January 16, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-09-CR-0002732-2014.

          BEFORE: PANELLA, SHOGAN, and PLATT, [*] JJ.


          SHOGAN, J.

         John Succi, ("Appellant") appeals from the judgment of sentence entered January 16, 2015, following his conviction by a jury on December 12, 2014, of two counts of home improvement fraud, twelve counts of deceptive or fraudulent business practices, twelve counts of theft by deception and one count of insurance fraud.[1] We affirm.

         The trial court set forth the following factual history:

The testimony elicited over the lengthy trial established that [Appellant] owned and operated a construction company located in Yardley, Bucks County. Deborah Parker resided in a single family home located in Doylestown, Bucks County. In June of 2005, Mrs. Parker entered into a home improvement contract with [Appellant]. Pursuant to that contract and an addendum to the contract, [Appellant] agreed to make a number of internal and external improvements to Mrs. Parker's home. The project was to be completed in four weeks. Three months after construction began, the project had still not been completed. Due to [Appellant's] poor work, his routine absences from the project and his repeated demands for money in advance, Mrs. Parker contacted other contractors who, after inspecting the property, advised her that the work [Appellant] had done was so inferior, it would have to be completely redone. [Appellant] ultimately abandoned the project leaving asbestos and other debris littered around the property. When he stopped work, major portions of the work were incomplete and the work that had been completed was substandard. After abandoning the project, [Appellant] placed a mechanic's lien on Mrs. Parker's property. At the time of trial in December of 2014, much of the original project had still not been completed and the remaining defective work had still not been repaired.
In August of 2005, about the same time [Appellant] abandoned Mrs. Parker's project, [Appellant] contracted with Richard Schulang to perform construction work on Mr. Schulang's home in Jamison, Bucks County. Under the terms of the contract, [Appellant] agreed to finish the basement of the home which was to include framing, insulation, electric, installation of a drop ceiling, construction of a cover for a radon pipe with an access panel and construction of a mechanical closet for $28, 500. He also agreed to enlarge an existing deck on the home and replace the old decking with composite wood for $6, 500. This project was supposed to be completed within three weeks.
By February of 2006, after numerous delays in construction, [Appellant] stopped work. At the time he abandoned the project, much of the work had not been completed although he had received all but $1, 250 of the contract price. In addition, much of the work that had been completed was substandard. The deck [Appellant] built could not pass inspection and was torn down. The composite wood decking used was improperly installed, voiding its warranty. In the basement, the electrical work did not pass inspection. Many of the outlet holes were too large and needed to be fixed. In addition, various materials Mr. Schulang had paid for were not delivered, including ground fault interrupters, door handles, deck railings and tile. A permit Mr. Schulang had paid for was never obtained. In May of 2006, [Appellant] placed a mechanic's lien on Mr. Schulang's property.
In August of 2006, a few months after [Appellant] stopped working on the Schulang project, [Appellant] contracted with Brian Hahn to add a basement to Mr. Hahn's home in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County. Construction of the basement entailed removal of the back deck, lifting the structure, excavating the basement, laying a new foundation and lowering the structure onto the new foundation. [Appellant] agreed to perform the work for $45, 000.
Although Mr. Hahn had paid [Appellant] a total of $52, 600, an amount in excess of the original contract, [Appellant's] work was seriously deficient. [Appellant] initially failed to obtain the necessary permits and work was sporadic. The work site was scattered with debris. The foundation was inadequate and in danger of collapse. Because the house was not set on the foundation properly, the windows in the home would not open, tiles popped, walls cracked, kitchen cabinets pulled away from the walls and the floor sloped.
During a discussion of [Appellant's] demand for more money and his failure to obtain the necessary inspections, Mr. Hahn asked if he needed to "protect" himself. [Appellant] responded, "If you go legal on me, I'll bury you. I'll bury you financially." Mr. Hahn thereafter contacted an attorney and removed [Appellant] from the project. Eventually, Mr. Hahn was forced to expend over $160, 000 to obtain the necessary permits and inspections and to bring the project into conformity with the original architectural plans and engineering specifications.
On April 3, 2007, [Appellant] entered into an agreement with Monica Cienuch and her husband, Adam, to rebuild the kitchen in their home in Levittown, Bucks County. The agreement called for [Appellant] to remove the existing sunroom, lay a foundation, erect the framing for the kitchen and install basic electric and plumbing.[2] In May of 2007, [Appellant] and the [Cienuches] agreed that [Appellant] would also finish the interior of the kitchen. The entire project was to cost $36, 000.
On May 16, 2007, [Appellant] notified Mrs. Cienuch that the construction permits had been approved. On May 21, 2007, demolition began. On May 24, 2007, Mrs. Cienuch was advised that, although an application had been made, the permits had not yet been obtained. Mrs. Cienuch took matters in her own hands and was able to obtain the necessary permits on June 1, 2007.
Thereafter work proceeded sporadically and the [Cienuches] soon began to observe problems. With regard to the foundation, [Appellant] failed to deliver the foundation material that had been agreed upon, using demolition debris instead of high-quality stone. The foundation laid by [Appellant] did not pass inspection. There were also significant problems with the framing. Although they had notified [Appellant] of the defective framing and [Appellant] had assured them problems with the framing would be corrected, the issues with regard to the framing remained unaddressed. Despite having received $30, 500 of the total contract price of $36, 000, [Appellant] had only completed the foundation, framing and basic plumbing. The cabinets and countertops that Mr. and Mrs. Cienuch had paid $7, 000 in advance to [Appellant] were never ordered or delivered.
As a result of the issues regarding delays, materials and inferior workmanship, the [Cienuches] retained an attorney, terminated the contract and demanded a refund of $20, 000. In response, [Appellant] stated that the [Cienuches] were "welcome to go to court, " adding that he was going to "lock [them] in the litigation for years." The [Cienuches] thereafter retained a new contractor to repair and complete the project. The additional cost for labor alone was $24, 800.
In September of 2007, [Appellant] entered into an agreement with Anthony Succi and his parents to build a special needs home for Mr. Succi's son on the parents' property in Philadelphia for $210, 000. During the project, the price increased based on [Appellant's] representations that additional money was needed to address unexpected problems. Mr. Succi paid [Appellant] over $263, 900. The project was thereafter shut down by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspection for non-compliance and lack of permits.

         Mr. Succi described the status of the project at the time [Appellant] was shut down as "a shell." He further stated,

[Appellant] had constructed a foundation of concrete that was out of level. It had a 7-foot basement that leaked at least a foot of water at a minimum. It had a roof that was put on that leaked profusely. It had windows partially put in. And the whole outside was just pure plywood that started rotting because of the weather and inside had two by four's.

         The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections required Mr. Succi to demolish the house for health and safety reasons. Demolition cost Mr. Succi an additional $15, 000.

         On June 4, 2008, [Appellant] contracted with Stuart Abramson to build an addition to Mr. Abramson's residence in Buckingham Township, Bucks County. [Appellant] agreed to add a room, enlarge the garage and another area of the house, construct a patio and install stucco. The total cost of the project was $142, 000. [Appellant] also agreed to a specific payment schedule that was tied to the completion of specific items of work. However, after construction commenced, [Appellant] frequently requested money ahead of the payment schedule, claiming that, without the money, he could not order materials. By January of 2009, Mr. Abramson had paid [Appellant] $120, 000. Mr. Abramson had paid for but did not receive drywall, electric, the shingle roof, windows, stucco, heating and air conditioning, a fireplace, hardwood flooring and tile work.

         In January of 2009, the Township inspected the project and issued a stop work order. Much of the work [Appellant] had done needed to be removed due to code violations. Mr. Abramson explained the resultant condition of the addition as follows:

Now I was left with a bare frame. There was nothing inside. No drywall, minimal insulation, concrete floors that were poured incorrectly. They made me bring in a carpenter and take down support structures from all the ceilings, because they weren't to code.

         Mr. Abramson paid other contractors $70, 000 to complete the projects. [Appellant] did not reimburse Mr. Abramson for any of the work not performed or materials not delivered.

         In September of 2008, while Mr. Abramson's project was still underway, [Appellant] entered into a preliminary contract with Andrew Spicer to build an addition to his home in Pipersville, Bucks County. Once architectural plans were completed, a final contract was executed in October of 2008. Under the terms of the final contract, the total cost of the project was $97, 000. Work was to be completed in about six months. Pursuant to the final contract, Mr. Spicer paid [Appellant] $21, 550 in deposits for materials and [Appellant] began construction. By Thanksgiving, [Appellant] had dug a hole for a foundation. By the end of November, early December of 2008, work on the foundation had begun but had not been completed. Thereafter, all work stopped until March of 2009.

         In a separate agreement, entered into at the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009, [Appellant] agreed to tile the kitchen floor that was adjacent to the planned addition for a price of $4, 500 or $5, 000. [Appellant] was paid and work commenced.

         In March of 2009, [Appellant] resumed work on the addition. At that time the foundation was poured and framing was completed. At this stage of the project, [Appellant] began to demand payments ahead of the payment schedule. While Mr. Spicer made at least one payment ahead of schedule, he began to refuse to pay for work until that work was in fact completed in accordance with the contract.

         In May of 2009, the project was terminated by agreement. By that time, Mr. Spicer had paid [Appellant] $67, 000 for work that was incomplete, defective or not in built with the specified material. Specifically, the architectural plans called for large wooden beams, called "LVL" beams, to be used in the framing. Although those beams were initially installed by [Appellant], he later replaced them with scrap wood. Numerous tiles installed by [Appellant] in the kitchen of Mr. Spicer's home thereafter "popped" while others cracked. Pieces of the old porcelain tile floor were dumped in the backyard. [Appellant's] substandard work caused the ceiling of Mr. Spicer's home to crack and the porches to sink. The Spicers were unable to correct all of the problems without demolishing the work and starting over. The Spicers spent approximately $85, 000 to finish the project "as best [they] could."

         In September of 2009, [Appellant] agreed to build an addition onto the home of Jeffery and Anette Goldstein in Richboro, Bucks County, for the use of Mrs. Goldstein's mother, Erica Baratz, for $80, 000. [Appellant] agreed to demolish an existing garage and bathroom and to construct a complete residential structure with a brick patio.

         During construction, [Appellant] left a wall to the home open to the outside, with only a tarp covering certain areas. Other problems also arose. The project failed multiple inspections, damage was caused to original property and [Appellant] began to significantly deviate from the construction plans. Although work initially began in a timely manner, the project soon became months behind schedule and [Appellant] began to continuously demand[] money from Mrs. Baratz. When Mrs. Baratz exhausted her funds, [Appellant] told her to charge the work to her credit cards. Ultimately, [Appellant] received approximately $120, 000 from the Goldsteins and Mrs. Baratz. When Mr. Goldstein voiced complaints, [Appellant] warned him that he had "political power" and threatened to make Mr. Goldstein's life "miserable."

         In July or August of 2010, [Appellant] walked off the job. At that time, [Appellant] had completed only eighty percent of the work outlined in the contract and had failed to order or deliver items that had been paid for in advance, including $5, 000 worth of cabinets and two fireplaces. [Appellant] did not finish constructing the walls, used regular concrete instead of brick on the patio and had installed inferior air conditioning and heating units. The Goldsteins and Mrs. Baratz were financially unable to complete the project. They received estimates that the heating and air conditioning alone would cost $15, 000 to $20, 000, an amount they could not afford. They did expend an additional $5, 000 to complete the necessary electrical and plumbing work and for a fireplace.

         In January of 2010, [Appellant] agreed to build a home in Margate, New Jersey for Larry Feinman, a resident of Holland, Bucks County. Initially, due to their personal relationship, [Appellant] and Mr. Feinman proceeded without a formal contract. Mr. Feinman gave [Appellant] blueprints for construction of a three-story home and [Appellant] agreed to build the home for $425, 000. The price was later raised to $470, 000. After the project ran behind schedule, Mr. Feinman insisted ...

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