BROOKSVILLE — As the housing boom peaked in 2004 and 2005, Coral Bay president Steven Bartlett spent money freely, buying a recreational vehicle, custom motorcycles and flying to the Caribbean and Las Vegas.
"He was bleeding the corporation,'' said Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson.
The problem was, the money wasn't Bartlett's but his customers', Simpson and fellow prosecutor Phil Hanson told the jury during Bartlett's three-week trial.
Wednesday, the jurors agreed, finding Bartlett guilty of grand theft.
Though he will not be sentenced until April 16, state guidelines call for him to serve at least 22 months in prison, Simpson said.
Jon Scott, one of the more than 100 victims in the case, watched as Bartlett was handcuffed and led away to the Hernando County Jail, where he will remain until sentencing.
"I kind of feel bad for the guy,'' said Scott, a Hernando County firefighter.
But then he remembered how many people Bartlett had hurt. Scott and his wife, Anna, paid Bartlett $60,000 to build a house in Ridge Manor and received about $20,000 worth of work.
"All I know is my house didn't get built,'' Scott said. "All (Bartlett) had to do was man up and do what he was supposed to do and it wouldn't have come to this.''
Bartlett did, eventually, try to do what he was supposed to do, Simpson said.
Court records showed that most of the money Bartlett withdrew — more than $1.1-million — came out of the till during 2004 and 2005, Simpson said. "When you look at the accounts, they look like a personal account, not a business account,'' he said.
Bartlett's attorney, Donald Harrison, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Simpson said the defense focused on the accounts from 2006, which show Bartlett poured money into the company to try to keep it solvent.
By then, Simpson said, it was too late and Bartlett could not complete about 100 houses he had agreed to build, or pay many of his subcontractors.
The trial wrapped up about a week sooner than expected.
Even so, as the largest builder-fraud case in the history of the 5th Judicial Circuit, it was a marathon for the State Attorney's Office. Hanson regularly worked on it weekends and late into the evening, said Simpson, his supervisor.
"Phil basically lived this case for several months,'' Simpson said.
Reach Dan DeWitt at [email protected] or (352) 754-6116.