Judge accepts Billings home improvement fraud plea deal | Local-news

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BENNINGTON — A Bennington judge accepted a plea deal that sends habitual offender Robert Billings to jail for 3-7 years plus full restitution to all his home improvement fraud victims.

The plea deal, negotiated between prosecutors and defense attorney Jeffrey Rubin, calls for Billings to serve a 3-7-year prison sentence and pay full restitution to four separate victims after he pleaded guilty to three felony counts of home improvement fraud. Billings was facing a possible life sentence as a habitual offender in Vermont. Billings has five prior felony home improvement fraud convictions dating back to 2010, which allowed prosecutors to tag him with habitual offender status. In return for pleading guilty, the state dismissed a fourth felony home improvement fraud charge and an unrelated DUI charge.

In all, Billings will likely serve less than three years behind bars with credit for the time he has already served. Once he is released on parole, Billings will need to steer clear of the criminal justice system for the remainder of his sentence, or he will be automatically forced to serve up to seven years behind bars without the benefit of a criminal hearing. This is just a determination by the Department of Corrections and his Parole.

According to court documents, Billings, owner of 4th Generation Plumbing and Heating, failed to complete – or refund deposits – to four individuals in Bennington, Sandgate, and Winhall between 2021-2023. The fraud totaled over $16,000. According to prosecutors, the dismissed fourth fraud charge had already been settled financially with a $2,850 restitution already paid to the victim.

The three charges that are part of the plea deal are as follows:

In November 2021, Billings allegedly contracted with an 84-year-old Bennington homeowner to replace a furnace on Scott Street. Billings received deposit checks totaling $8,300 for the work, stating that the homeowner needed to replace his entire furnace. Nearly two years later, the work was never completed, and no money was returned. A second opinion was given to the homeowner in 2023, informing him that the old furnace did not need replacement.

In October 2022, Billings allegedly entered into a contract with Winhall homeowners for extensive plumbing work on their Beaver Street home. Several deposit checks totaling $6,000 were written to Billings for the job, which was never completed. Billings returned $600 to the homeowners several months after they threatened to go to the police. $5,400 was never refunded.

In February 2023, Billings allegedly promised to fix a heating problem for a Bennington homeowner, including installing a new oil tank. The homeowner gave Billings four checks totaling $ 10,900 for the work, which was never performed. A heating expert later told the homeowner that a new oil tank was unnecessary.

Billings has a lengthy criminal record in Vermont, including at least five home improvement fraud convictions in Vermont from between 2010 and 2016. A preliminary search online revealed an F-rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a company called 4th Gen, a Bennington plumbing business associated with Billings’ name with the same listed address as on court records. Several complaints recite familiar circumstances, including up-front monies taken with no work done and none returned and work being cited that was not needed.

A check of Billings on the fraud registry showed at least eight listings for home improvement fraud.

“It’s not enough, said Marie Bolton, daughter of an 83-year-old victim who was ripped off by Billings in 2022. “It’s just not enough.”

There was some doubt whether Judge Kerry McDonald-Cady was going to accept the deal after she listened to victim impact statements and looked at what was most important to Billings’ victims, some of whom were elderly and had lost several thousand dollars due to his fraud. After taking a recess, the judge addressed the court.

“I believe this sentence gives the victims the best chance at restitution while still having a punitive effect,” McDonald-Cady said.

For his part, Billings apologized to the victims gathered in the courtroom but said he “was robbing Peter to pay Paul, referring to using up-front money from a new contract to settle the old after not performing the work. It was an argument the judge had a hard time buying.

“This wasn’t just someone who fell behind and couldn’t catch up. This was someone manipulating his victims. There has to be punishment, but sending him to jail for the rest of his life does nothing to address the needs of the victims for restitution. I asked where the money went. It did not go to the homeowners as refunds for the work not being completed. It went somewhere else.”

Billings will start his sentence immediately. A separate restitution hearing will be scheduled to determine the exact amounts due to all homeowners. Until then, the homeowners will have to wait, not just for a hearing, but for Billings to serve his sentence and earn enough to start making good on what he owes. Several of the homeowners are elderly. There is no guarantee they will ever see any of the money they paid out in their lifetimes.

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