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Builder is accused of theft

A Ridge Manor home builder on Monday was arrested and charged with grand theft involving money paid to him for construction of a single-family house last year. Fred Locke, 52, of 34184 Oak Hammock Drive in Ridge Manor, became the third builder in the past week to face grand theft and related charges.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said Lockediverted approximately $25,000 from money paid to him by Robert and Lois Archer for their single-family home in Ridge Manor.

"He was a good builder ... he just didn't know how to run his business," Mrs. Archer said.

Locke was released on bail after being charged with one count each of grand theft and misapplication of funds. He could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Mrs. Archer said the couple agreed in December 1989 to buy a house from Locke on Cyril Drive in Ridge Manor for approximately $71,000.

After they initially paid the builder more than $49,000 for the house, the couple discovered that Locke was not paying his subcontractors. As a result, the Archers had to pay an additional $23,000 to the subcontractors to be released from liens against the house.

The couple also agreed to take a $28,000 promissory note from Locke so he would have the funds to finish the house, but Locke defaulted on the note after paying back only about $4,000, Mrs. Archer said.

The Archers ended up paying nearly $97,000 for their house _ $26,000 more than they had contracted for, Mrs. Archer said.

The misapplication of funds cost Locke his rights to build in Hernando County before landing him in jail.

Last November, the Hernando County Construction Licensing Board suspended Locke's building privileges for one year because of his failure to pay subcontractors who worked on the Archers' home.

Locke's operation is the smallest of those that are run by builders charged recently by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office as part of an ongoing investigation into builder fraud and theft.

Last Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office arrested and charged former Spring Hill builder Gary Mark with fraud and grand theft involving the misappropriation of $350,000 of customers' money.

On Friday, the Sheriff's Office charged once-prominent builder Gerhard Boerner with grand theft involving the diversion of more than $9,100 that was supposed to help pay for a Spring Hill couple's home.

Boerner, once the Greater West Hernando Chamber of Commerce's Businessman of the Year, built among other things the Wal-Mart shopping center, the Cinema Square theater and the UHL Plaza shopping center, all on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill.

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