Landscaper to repay dissatisfied customer $114,800

April 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
An unlicensed contractor already sentenced to jail agreed Monday to refund $114,800 to an elderly widower.

In July 2009, 7 On Your Side reported that work done at the Hillsborough home of 87-year-old Gordon Curry left his checking account depleted. Last month, a judge sentenced the contractor to 20 days in jail and three years probation.

On Monday, the defendant showed up for a restitution hearing to learn just how much he would have to pay.

Curry is an easygoing man. The widower enjoys spending time in his garden. It is a passion he shared with his late wife who used to love planting flowers.

"It means a lot because it reminds him of my mom and my mom had a beautiful garden," said Curry's daughter Betsy Grotty.

Edilberto Heredia ran a landscaping business, but state officials say he never got a license. The city of Hillsborough also says he never got the necessary permits to do the work at Curry's home.

Video shot by Curry's family showed the condition of the garden one year later. The fountain Heredia put in was inoperable. Many of the plants were dead. The Redwood decking had deteriorated.

Heredia showed up at a South San Francisco court room Monday to learn how much, if anything, he would have to repay Curry. But, before the hearing, he asked to speak to the prosecution's expert witness, licensed landscaper Michael Gladden.

Gladden made it clear to Heredia that he considered the work Heredia did for Curry unacceptable.

"He's basically an amateur and was not able to perform as a professional would," he told ABC7. "He was lacking the knowledge and information to do a good job."

Heredia then spoke to his attorney in private. His attorney returned with the surprising news that Heredia would agree to repay Curry $114,800. That is almost everything Curry paid Heredia.

"I think to a certain extent it was conscience. To a certain extent it was facing the reality that he wasn't going to get around it," said prosecutor Kari Gannam.

The case attracted the attention of licensed contractors throughout Northern California. Many protested outside the courthouse, accusing unlicensed contractors of stealing from both taxpayers and law-abiding licensed contractors.

"The underground economy is about a $140 billion a year. It's estimated that there's $6.5 billion of tax revenues lost in California to the underground economy," said Kevin Burns with the California Landscape Contractors Association.

For Curry, Monday's ruling means he will be able to use the money to honor his late wife.

"All the nonsense is over and I can enjoy everything," he said.

Heredia will have three years to repay Curry. If it is not paid by then, his supervised probation will be extended until Curry is repaid in full.


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