By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County prosecutors say a billing dispute between a Monroe contractor and a couple who hired him to build a house was more than a business squabble.
Prosecutors are calling what the longtime contractor did a crime.
James G. Platt, 65, was charged earlier this month with first-degree theft. Prosecutors allege that Platt stole about $190,000 while he was building the couple a house in the Kellogg Lake area in east Snohomish County. The builder is accused of inflating bills from subcontractors and forging invoices to justify the overbilling.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor David Hiltner charged the case as a major economic offense, based on the amount of money and the sophistication and planning that went into the alleged theft. That leaves the door open for prosecutors to seek a stiffer sentence if Platt is convicted.
The Monroe man is scheduled to be arraigned on the charge later this month. He doesn’t have any prior criminal history.
Charging papers say the case already has been aired in civil court. The unhappy customers sued Platt in 2008 and a settlement was reached three years later.
Yet, “given the scope and the nature of the theft, criminal charges appear to be warranted,” Hiltner wrote.
Investigators say Platt and the couple in 2006 signed a contract which included a 17 percent supervision fee for Platt on top of what the subcontractors billed. Construction began and the first bill was submitted in January 2007.
Prosecutors allege Platt overinflated what subcontractors actually charged and based his fee on the bogus bills. He is accused of taking more than he was entitled from an escrow account.
When he was questioned by the couple about the bills, the defendant reportedly forged invoices, court papers said. There were at least 17 bills that were falsified during 2007, according to charging documents.
“During the civil litigation the defendant admitted that he had created invoices from the subcontractors to match the falsely billed amounts,” Hiltner wrote.
Initially, Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies spoke with the customers in 2010 about the case. At that time, the couple said they were concerned a criminal investigation would jeopardize their lawsuit, court papers said. Prosecutors spoke with the couple last year and decided to move forward with filing a criminal charge.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.