Marion County prosecutors dropped 14 felony charges against a construction contractor featured in Angie’s List Magazine’s January 2009 roundup of worst contractors in Indianapolis.
In lieu of the charges, CPM Construction of Indiana owner Joseph Radcliff agreed the prosecutor had probable cause to pursue one count of misdemeanor criminal mischief as part of an April 1 agreement with the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. Radcliff was arrested in September 2008 on charges stemming from National Insurance Crime Bureau allegations that Radcliff's company intentionally damaged homeowners' roofs to inflate insurance claims in the wake of hailstorms.
"Unfortunately, we do not have enough to go forward on the case," says Marion County Prosecutor spokesman Mario Massillamany. Homeowners and a former employee were no longer willing to testify or had changed their initial statements and without them, the case had no legs, Massillamany says. "But just because we dismiss a case doesn't mean the individual is innocent," he says.
Jennifer Lukemeyer, Radcliff's defense attorney, says her client was committed to beating the case because the facts didn't support the charges. "This was the easiest resolution that guaranteed the dismissal of the charges," Lukemeyer says. "He didn't admit to the commission of any offense or any action that could constitute a criminal offense."
As part of the agreement, Radcliff paid $660 in fines and court costs. Admitting the state had probable cause doesn't imply guilt but rather that the state had enough information to pursue the charge, Massillamany says. He emphasized the agreement is contingent on Radcliff committing no criminal offenses for two years. If he were to run afoul of the law within that time, the prosecutor could reinstate the charges. "I doubt these charges would ever be resurrected," Lukemeyer says. "That's a standard term in every diversion agreement."
Between 2007 and 2008, Angie's List members' negative reports described the company attempting to enforce unclear contract terms and delayed storm damage repair work — though no reports mentioned claims of intentional damage to their homes.
Also in April, the Indiana attorney general closed a civil complaint it filed against CPM and Radcliff in December. The complaint alleged CPM represented to homeowners that when they signed paperwork, it only authorized an estimate. However, the complaint states, when homeowners chose not to hire CPM, the company attempted to enforce the paperwork as a contract that entitled it to 20 percent of the contract's value.
In May 2007, Daviline Arnold, one of four homeowners named in the complaint, says CPM performed an estimate on her home's roofing and siding hail damage. She says they asked her to sign paperwork stating she approved the company contacting her insurance company. "They said 'It's not a contract,' so I went ahead and signed it," Arnold told Angie's List Magazine. "Come to find out the other side was a contract that I unknowingly signed. It said that if I backed out, I agreed to pay them 20 percent of the job."
CPM business attorney Mark McKinzie says that prior to the complaint, the company had already changed its practices to include explaining the agreement's terms to customers and providing separate cancellation forms. To resolve the complaint, CPM and Radcliff agreed to comply with Indiana's home improvement contract laws and released homeowners from the contracts. Arnold says she remains wary. "There's that old saying that a leopard cannot change its spots," she says.