Crooked contractors’ secret to avoiding prosecution

March 02, 2018 08:14 PM

Crooked contractors often know the law better than consumers do.  They know that if they take your money, start the job, then quit, they'll likely avoid criminal prosecution. Proving what they did was a crime, is often left up to you.
Jim Kraus paid contractor Kurt Kline $140,000.  Kline did a few weeks work then walked away from the job.

"I sent him a text message I called him. No response," said Kraus.

Advertisement – Content Continues Below

Then he got this email from Kline that reads, “It is with heavy heart I write this letter.  Tri-County Contractors is closing."

"We immediately got in the car and drove down to the Livingston County Sheriff's Office and filed a complaint,” said Kraus.

But they were told this wasn't a crime.  It was a civil matter unless they could prove a scheme to defraud.

"Basically we were told if we could find other victims then we could potentially prosecute him," said Kraus.

Kurt Kline, then a two-time felon, pulled off a multi-county contracting scam by getting payment, starting work, and then quitting.  

For a year, Jim and his wife Barbara worked with other victims and helped put Kline behind bars. 

For Susan Sipes, the Kraus’ story is painfully familiar.  She reached out the News10NBC in November after Alvis Sprague took $17,000, made a mess of her Canandaigua condo, and wanted more money.  So she called police.   

"They sent an officer out and he said, ‘No, it's a civil matter.’"

Bad contractors know if they start the work, it will likely be considered a civil matter, protecting them from criminal prosecution.  But News10NBC's investigation revealed Al Sprague's long criminal history, including four felonies including a prison stint for defrauding other consumers.

"Sometimes it's frustrating because it is civil.  There's a fine line there,” said Dave Tillman, Undersheriff of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department.  

Tillman explains that fine line between civil and criminal matters complicates contractor dispute cases. But in the Al Sprague case, Tillman says the line is clear.

"With the assistance of the district attorney's office, it felt very appropriate to charge Mr. Sprague criminally," said Tillman

Now Al Sprague is in the Ontario County Jail.

Al Sprague was arrested this week and has a court appearance on Monday. Kurt Kline is still in prison. The key for consumers in both these cases in getting the attention of law enforcement was showing the contractors demonstrated a pattern of behavior. We have information on choosing a contractor at

Before you hire a contractor, here's Deanna's Do List:

  1. Get at least 3 bids.
  2. Do a background check, like checking the Better Business Bureau.
  3. Ask for proof of insurance.
  4. Get a written contract.  The Better Contractors Bureau has provided an example of what it should look like
  5. Never pay full price up front.  The BBB suggests pay a third up front, a third in the middle, and a third at completion.
  6. Report problems to the BBB, the New York State Attorney General’s Office or the Better Contractors Bureau.


Deanna Dewberry

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

Relay Media Amp

We no longer have Facebook comments on this site. Please visit our Facebook Page to join the conversation.