York County contractor jailed for missing payments on $814K restitution, has new theft charges
A York County judge has ordered six more months of prison time for a former pole building contractor who failed to make his full monthly payments on the $814,370 in restitution he owes to 90 former customers.
Lowell K. Thomas II, 48, of Spring Grove, appeared Wednesday before Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness on a probation-violation petition on his 2015 case, as well as for a pretrial conference for his active theft case.
In December 2019, York County detectives filed new theft charges against Thomas, alleging he was still taking contracting jobs despite having agreed not to do anymore such work while serving his 20-year probationary sentence on the 2015 case.
In the active case, he remains charged with nine felonies, including theft by deception, running a corrupt organization, deceptive business practices, receiving stolen property and taking advance payments for services not performed, according to court records.
That case could go to trial as early as April, York County District Attorney's Office spokesperson Kyle King said.
Because continuing to do home-improvement contracting jobs violates his probation conditions, Thomas was jailed in December 2019 on a probation-violation detainer, court records state.
Behind on payments: On Wednesday, Ness found that Thomas had violated his probation by not making restitution payments as required. The judge sentenced him to 20 to 40 months in York County Prison, giving him credit for the roughly 14 months he's already spent locked up on his probation-violation detainer, attorney Korey Leslie said.
The defense attorney said he will appeal.
The issue, Leslie said, is that appeals courts in the past year or so have been fairly clear that judges can't simply set a restitution amount without first determining a defendant's ability to pay on a monthly schedule.
"In this case, they took the restitution amount and divided it by 240 months (representing Thomas' 20 years of probation) and said, 'This is what you have to pay,'" Leslie said.
That comes to nearly $3,400 per month.
"We're simply going to argue that the payment schedule put in place by the court didn't factor in his ability to pay — what would be a reasonable payment schedule he can follow," Leslie said.
Current case: In his active court case, Thomas is accused of using the name "Tom Thomas" and saying he was from Stars and Stripes Buildings when he took money from a Warrington Township couple to do work on their property.
There was no signed contract for the work because Thomas said he wanted to show his children that people could make agreements on a handshake basis, according to charging documents.
After many months, the work wasn't completed and Thomas — who had asked for more and more cash from the couple — wouldn't return the rest of their advance money, those documents allege.
Leslie said the current case differs from Thomas' last one and that his client disputes the allegations.
"In the past it was pretty clear — people paid money and work wasn't done," he said. "But this time, there's plenty of proof the work was substantially completed. There was some disagreement over additional contract work."
Thomas' codefendant in the active case, 39-year-old Kristen Reidle, of Spring Grove, is facing similar felony charges and remains free on her own recognizance, court records state.
The first case: Prosecutors have said that between 2013 and 2014, Thomas took money from customers for materials and work but failed to complete the work or even provide the materials clients had paid for.
Between 40 and 50 of the victims were older than 60, and one was 91 years old at the time, prosecutors have said. Other victims included a church group, a firefighter group and animal-rescue organizations.
Thomas was owner and president of National Barn Co.'s northeast division, headquartered in Penn Township. National Barn Co.'s individual divisions are privately owned, meaning the national company had no supervisory role over Thomas, according to prosecutors.
No-contest plea: Thomas pleaded no contest in August 2018 to three felony charges — being part of a corrupt organization, home-improvement fraud and theft by failure to make required disposition.
Instead of prison, he was given 20 years' probation so he could start paying restitution right away, prosecutors have said.
The restitution is for victims in York County as well as in other states, according to prosecutors, who previously said Thomas was either under investigation or charged for similar activity in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
Not all of Thomas' more than 150 victims were entitled to restitution, prosecutors said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.