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Plea deal in home fraud could let landscaper walk

– A landscaper pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony and will be able to keep himself out of prison.

But if he misses a restitution payment of at least $100 a week, Tony Screeton, 46, will be required to serve the executed portion of his prison sentence, according to court documents.

Screeton pleaded guilty to corrupt business influence. The unusual plea agreement calls for a prison sentence of eight years, with six years suspended and two years served behind bars. But if the judge accepts the agreement, Screeton will not serve his executed prison sentence unless he fails to pay restitution. If Screeton successfully pays back his victims, the court could approve a sentence modification to include no prison time.

Screeton must also serve six years on probation, unless he pays back what he owes, in full, within that time frame. If he pays his victims, his probation time could be dropped to three years, according to court documents.

Prosecutors charged Screeton in January after customers complained they paid for work never completed. Screeton’s victims included a neighbor of Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Steve Godfrey, chief counsel of the Criminal Division.

Screeton owes $35,289 in restitution, according to court documents.

Godfrey referred his neighbor to the police department, and Fort Wayne police Detective Chrystopher O’Connor began looking at the track record for Mulch Perfect Landscape and Screeton’s other company, Perfect View Landscape.

According to court documents, O’Connor found previous reports from other victims reporting the same problems – payment requested up front for landscape work, checks cashed, but work never completed. The complaints went back to May 2004, but those complaints were resolved without prosecution.

In O’Connor’s investigation, he found nearly $12,000 in losses. The amounts owed to victims range from $1,111 to $5,700, according to court documents.

His business had an F rating with the Better Business Bureau of Northeastern Indiana.

Screeton has prior felony convictions for fraud on a financial institution, conspiracy to commit fraud on a financial institution, and robbery.

rgreen@jg.net

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