Fraudulent contractor found guilty of theft in post-Katrina renovations

A Texas contractor, out of prison on parole and never licensed in Louisiana, was convicted late Monday of stealing more than $100,000 from the elderly, desperate to rebuild the homes they lost to Hurricane Katrina.

Malachi Crump, 64, was found guilty in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court of three counts of felony theft, one for each family he swindled for tens of thousands of dollars each.

Crump’s attorney, Eusi Phillips, said any disagreement about the quality of his work was a civil matter better resolved through a lawsuit.

“This case is in the wrong building,” he said. “It should be down the street in Civil District Court.”

The jury disagreed. It found him guilty as charged on all three counts.

“This isn’t a civil case; this is a thief and a con man,” Assistant District Attorney Lauren Favret said in her opening statement.

Crump, acting through his company Chimere’s Builders, signed contracts with three elderly women, promising to completely renovate their homes.

They gave him tens of thousands in down payments.

Some wrote him additional checks for supplies and installments.

He did some work at some houses, nothing at all at others. He had a variety of excuses: his truck broke down, burglars stole doors off hinges, he had a heart attack, a relative was murdered.

Then he disappeared when they started asking questions.

One of his victims has since died from dementia; another is bedridden.

The third testified Monday she wrote him an initial check for $20,000 to fix up her home in New Orleans East, then followed with three more, for a total of $43,000.

Phillips questioned why she continued to pay him if she thought he wasn’t holding up his end of the contract.

“I can’t explain it, I was at a state where I just wanted to get home,” said Sandra David. “I just wanted to go home.”

She left the courtroom crying.

Crump wired her house for electricity and put up the drywall, then disappeared.

He never installed the cabinets, air conditioning, hot water heater, bathtubs, sinks, carpet, tile or paint. He stopped answering her calls.

An inspector discovered the electrical work he had done was not up to code, and the drywall and wiring had to be ripped out and replaced. Davis and her husband paid another contractor another $34,000 to complete the house.

Her husband, still furious six years later, called Crump a “clown,” a “fool” and “a narcissist.”

“It was one lie after another lie after another lie,” Brian Davis said on the stand.

The other women were represented in court by their children and grandchildren.

One had given Crump $22,000 to renovate her shotgun house on Broad Street. It remains today in nearly the exact shape she left it, her daughter testified.

Another woman said her mother paid him $36,000 to rebuild her home on Pauline Street.

Maxine Leon said she stopped by months later and found Crump and another man living in an upstairs room of the gutted house, powered by a generator. No work had been done, she said.

She returned two weeks later to discover a chain on the gate and was unable to get in touch with him again.

When Leon eventually returned to the house, years later, it was in the same condition: no floors, no electricity, no plumbing, no drywall, no fixtures.

Her mother has since died from dementia, and the home was so far gone she had it demolished.

Carl Bourque, an investigator with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors, told the jury that Crump has never been licensed to legally perform contracting work in the state.

Crump’s attorney said his contracts with the women were for tens of thousands beyond what they paid him, and he stopped working only when he stopped being paid.

The jury didn’t buy it.

Judge Frank Marullo will sentence Crump at a hearing next month. He is facing five years on each of the three counts.

He also could be called back to Texas: he was convicted there in 1994 of possession of cocaine and sentenced to 25 years.

He was released from prison in 2002 and was to remain on parole through 2018.

He’s had several civil judgments filed against him there, too, also for collecting money to work on houses he never renovated.