A Vero Beach construction worker found guilty of stealing from his employer while working on Cache Cay Drive had his sentence reduced last week despite the objection of his former boss.
William Jones, 42, had no comment as he stood somberly in front of Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox Wednesday wearing a jail-issued jumpsuit and handcuffs. A jury found Jones guilty of felony second-degree grand theft in March 2016 after a three-day trial.
Police say Jones stole and defrauded John Wayne Construction of nearly $27,000 from May through August 2014 while he was working on a 5-bedroom island home off the bank of Bethel Creek.
Jones made purchases at Home Depot for the construction job using a company credit card, but then submitted the receipts to the homeowner for reimbursement pocketing the cash, according to a complaint and request for investigation made by Wayne Griner, owner of John Wayne Construction.
He also diverted funds that had been given to him by John Wayne Construction to pay contractors, according to a warrant affidavit filed by Detective Joseph Abollo with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office. Instead of paying the bills, Jones would present the invoices to the homeowner asking them to pay the vendors directly. The defendant would then keep the funds given to him by his company.
Jones had opened a checking account using a former employer’s name to funnel the money, court documents claim. He would alter the checks written to John Wayne Construction to say U.S. Building Consultants Inc., or USBCI, an account only he had access to and one his former employer knew nothing about.
Judge Cox shaved four months off Jones’ incarceration and seven years off his probation term last week. She sentenced him to eight months in the county jail with credit for 164 days served after defense attorney William Ponall asked that his client’s sentence be reviewed.
After serving his remaining time in jail – another 10 or 11 weeks – he will have to serve one year of house arrest and then be on probation for six years.
Jones had no prior criminal record and was eligible to avoid prison all together, Ponall argued in the motion for a sentence reduction. A presentence investigation recommended house arrest and probation, not incarceration, the attorney said.
Jones has served the majority of his sentence and paid a restitution of nearly $40,000, he added. The defendant holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University and maintains a positive employment history, supporting his wife and child.
He volunteers. He goes to church. When he was released on bond pending appeal, he helped recruit companies from more than a dozen states to assist in construction recovery after Hurricane Irma, Ponall explained. “We have substantial testimony from family and friends of Mr. Jones’ good character,” he said.
It is important to note that witnesses were not called on Jones’ behalf at his original sentencing hearing, the attorney argued in the motion for review.
Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman objected to the change in sentence. The victim whose company was scammed does not want a reduction in the prison term, he said. “His position is that the defendant stole tens of thousands of dollars from him and a sentence of 164 days for that crime isn’t a sufficient punishment.”
Construction company owner Griner did not appear in court last week, nor did he respond to a request for comment.
Court records show he contacted his former employee about the theft in June 2014. He told police that Jones admitted wrongdoing, apologized and offered to pay the money back. Jones didn’t want law enforcement involved, he said. The plea for mercy did not work.
“Following the meeting, Griner was determined to pursue further with the investigation and the impending prosecution,” Abollo wrote. A warrant for Jones’ arrest was issued that September.