A St. Petersburg website designer with a penchant for $200 bottles of wine, Lexus cars and Armani clothes pleaded guilty Tuesday to three felony counts of grand theft from clients.
John Paul Heintz, 67, received eight years of probation and must repay almost $90,000 to three victims - a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from doctors, lawyers, business owners and friends. All told, Heintz's dealings involved millions, for which he rewarded himself withpricey homes in Illinois, Michigan and Florida.
Tuesday's conviction follows a related case that resulted in a jury finding Heintz not guilty of defrauding St. Petersburg businessman William Nelms of $25,000 in a purported investment deal.
Several people hurt by Heintz's schemes said they are glad to finally see a conviction because they believe it will help prevent others from falling prey to a man they once trusted.
"This is really good news," said Dr. Scott Plantz, who lost $59,000 to Heintz and rallied others to file complaints against the man. "I thank the three investigators who prosecuted this case. It's hard to get them to prosecute these kinds of white-collar crimes."
Part of the problem is that consumers who contract for work must show the contractor intended to defraud them. When a contractor performs at least some of the work - as Heintz often did under business names Dalmoworks and Coastal Datalink Corp. - it becomes a question of whether it was fraud or simply shoddy work.
Shoddy work is a civil matter. But if a contractor does not intend to deliver what is promised, he might face criminal charges.
Heintz always maintained that he was simply misunderstood.
"Mr. Heintz has in the past six or seven years had literally hundreds who were satisfied with his work," said his lawyer Daniel J. Fernandez.
But in an in-depth story in 2008on Heintz's businesses and background, the Tampa Bay Times detailed his questionable dealings.
Some of those who claimedthey were hurt by Heintz in those dealings will never see restitution for what they say they lost.
Pam and Don Angerhofer, whose daughter Carissa studied horseback riding with Heintz's daughter, lost their $400,000 retirement in an investment plan Heintz pitched but never developed.
Authorities said the statute of limitations had expired to prosecute the Angerhofers' case.
On Tuesday, Pam Angerhofer, of Western Springs, Ill., said she simply wants her onetime family friend to realize how his schemes have hurt people.
"I just want him to stop," she said. "I want him to a be a decent human being."
Pinellas Circuit Court Judge Chris Helinger ordered Heintz to begin repaying money he owes within a week. Heintz must pay $2,500 of the $10,000 he owes Greg and Dava Baez.
The couple hired Heintz to build them a website that never functioned the way he promised.
"We honestly didn't think we would ever see the money," Greg Baez said. "A lot of people tried to make it out to be a he-said, she-said. We're happy he had to plead guilty."
The judge asked Heintz where he would get the $2,500 to pay Greg and Dava Baez by next week.
Heintz responded: "From a friend."
"Who's the friend?" Helinger asked.
"Van Williams," Heintz said - a neighbor who sued Heintz in the past for delivering a worthless check for $44,000 on a previous loan.
Ivan Penn can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2332.