MOREAU — The former proprietor of a Moreau-based modular home company was arrested and jailed late Wednesday on charges she defrauded eight customers of more than $1 million, records show.
Sherrie A. Burton, 64, of Moreau, was charged with eight felony counts of grand larceny and a single felony charge of scheme to defraud in connection with allegations made by customers of the now-defunct Valued Manufactured Housing Inc., also known as Valued Homes. The company formerly operated from Route 9 in Moreau as well as Burton’s home on Jackson Avenue Extension.
The arrest came after the state Attorney General’s Office and State Police received numerous complaints over the last two years from people who said they paid Burton and her company tens of thousands of dollars as down payments for homes that weren’t built or were delivered incomplete or without proper title.
“This individual perpetuated a devious scheme to defraud hard-working New Yorkers out of thousands of dollars for her own gain,” Acting State Police Superintendent Keith Corlett said in a news release issued Thursday morning.
The Attorney General’s Office said in a news release that it has heard from over 40 potential victims of Burton’s company so far.
Bank records show a repeated pattern of the company taking deposits from customers for homes, but failing to use that money for the homes as required, prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors allege that Burton falsely represented to customers that they needed to put a substantial deposit down for the manufacturer to begin construction of their new home, while in reality the manufacturers did not require such a deposit.
She also was accused of obtaining financing to buy floor plan or display models and illegally selling them as new models to many customers, leaving the victims without legal title to the homes and the lenders believing the homes were still on display in her showroom.
Three of the victims lost $50,000 or more, court records allege. One of the families reported losing up to $108,000, and one couple reported taking money from a retirement account to try to build their dream home.
The Attorney General’s Office alleged in court documents that Burton spent customers’ money on trips to Turning Stone Resort and Casino, Amazon.com, home shopping networks, cash advances and household expenses.
“Based on my review of the (bank) accounts ... the defendant utilized the deposits and payments from victims for her own personal expenditures,” Attorney General’s Office Investigator Samuel Scotellaro wrote in a court deposition.
Documents filed by the Attorney General’s Office in Moreau Town Court allege that state records show Burton created the company and was listed as its president and chief executive officer since 2013. Customers began reporting problems with construction and delivery of homes beginning in 2015.
Burton declared bankruptcy last October, court records show. She was prosecuted in a similar case in the 1990s, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation that her lawyer said was terminated early.
The Better Business Bureau revoked Valued Homes’ “accreditation” last fall because of unresolved complaints, and the organization gave the company an “F” rating.
Her lawyer, Tucker Stanclift, said that Burton maintains her innocence, and that deaths of her son and husband, who helped her run the business, led to the problems.
“They were really in charge of the business,” he said. “It was really a tragic situation for everyone involved.”
He said the jailing of Burton in a nonviolent case was an example of why bail reform was needed in New York.
“It is unfortunate the practice in this state is to incarcerate defendants who are presumed innocent because they can’t afford bail,” he added.
Burton was arraigned late Wednesday before Moreau Town Justice Jeff McCabe and sent to Saratoga County Jail for lack of $50,000 cash bail or $100,000 bail bond. McCabe also directed a bail source hearing to be held if she attempts to post bail.
Burton is due back in court on Feb. 13. The weightiest charges, three counts of second-degree grand larceny, are punishable by up to 15 years apiece in state prison.