A charge of financial exploitation filed against a local home builder in 2017 is no longer pending after a deferred prosecution agreement was reached Tuesday in St. Francois County.
Matthew Burgess, 36, of Farmington, was facing one count of the class A felony of financial exploitation of the elderly, and a jury trial had been scheduled to take place Tuesday.
St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Gilliam said in regard to the charge against Burgess, a resolution to the case was reached.
“After speaking with the victim, considering the available evidence against Mr. Burgess and reviewing the elements of the offense of financial exploitation of the elderly, we believed that a deferred prosecution agreement for a period of two years is the appropriate outcome,” said Gilliam. “It ensured that the victim receives restitution for her loss while also balancing the state’s interest in holding Mr. Burgess accountable.
“He was required to pay substantial restitution to the victim and perform community service, in addition to facing a trial if he violates the conditions agreed upon,” Gilliam explained. “This agreement provides a known outcome for all involved.”
According to a probable cause statement, on June 14, 2017, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services received a request from St. Francois County Missouri Division of Senior and Disability Services to investigate the financial exploitation of Emma Wessel, an elderly resident of Farmington who had previously won a lawsuit against Burgess.
The initial report said Wessel entered into a contractual agreement with Burgess and Zachary Govreau of MB Land Company for the construction of a home in 2016. Wessel paid the full purchase of the home prior to its construction, and construction was never completed.
On Sept. 20, 2017, an investigation supervisor with the Special Investigation Unit met with Wessel at her residence. During an interview, she told the investigator she was the caregiver for her brother, who is a disabled veteran. Because of his medical conditions, he was facing the possibility of having to become a resident of an assisted living facility.
Her brother asked if she would be willing to sell her current home to buy or build a house large enough to accommodate both of them, as well as daily caregivers who would be attending to him. Wessel agreed to do so and both of them agreed to fund the new home from an annuity held by her brother.
The report said in February 2016, sometime after seeing a model home in the St. Francois County subdivision of the “Highlands,” the woman called the number displayed for the contracting company. After leaving a message, she was later contacted by Govreau, a project manager with Journey Home Builders — a division of MB Land Company — and an appointment was scheduled to discuss having the company build a home for her in the subdivision.
Govreau reportedly told Wessel that the owner of MB Land Company was Burgess and that his father had been in the construction business locally for many years. Wessel was familiar with the Burgess family name and knew they had a good reputation in the community.
On March 21, 2016, she met with Govreau at MB Land Company’s office located in Farmington and signed a contract for the construction of her new home. At this meeting, per the agreement, she gave Govreau a check for $3,000 as a deposit and the construction was to begin soon thereafter, with an expected completion date of three months.
The total contract cost for the completed home, not including the down payment, was to be $218,547. The home was to be built on Lot 12 off Wolf Creek Drive and the contract stated MB Land Company owned it. A written purchase-agreement was also reportedly executed.
Wessel told Govreau that she would be paying the full amount at closing and that she would be setting up an escrow account to fund the project. She was told by Govreau that the company had set up its own account and, unless she didn’t trust them, they could handle the funds.
Wessel said she didn’t think this was unusual, and because she was dealing with her brother’s medical issues, she thought it would be easier to let them handle the escrow account.
On April 20, 2016, she wrote MB Land Company a check for $218,547, which was to fund the escrow account.
Progress on the home was slow, and Wessel reported barely ever seeing any workers on the job site. In August 2016, she was becoming very concerned about the project. After voicing her concerns to Govreau, she was told a new target “move-in date” would be Oct. 31, 2016.
When the home still wasn’t completed by that date, Wessel went to MB Land Company’s office and asked for someone to call her about the project. She reportedly received a call from Burgess, advising he was giving her his personal word that her home would be done within the next two weeks.
Prior to Wessel making a personal appearance at Burgess’s office, Govreau had told her they were waiting on a delivery of cabinets from the local Hoods store to continue the completion of the home. Wessel called Hoods, and they told her they had not received payment for the cabinets, and they would not be delivered until the payment was received.
The next two weeks passed with no communication from either Burgess or Govreau, at which point the woman contacted an attorney. A civil case was filed against Burgess, Govreau, and MB Land Company, and as part of the civil proceedings, MB Land Company’s bank records were subpoenaed.
Upon receiving the records, it was discovered that MB Land Company’s escrow account was never funded, and Wessel’s check was deposited into an MB Land Company business account.
All of the money was gone within eight days of her check being deposited, according to court records.
It was also discovered during the civil proceedings that the property where her home sits did not belong to MB Land Company, as stated in the contract. Silas Properties, LLC actually owned the land and there was a lien on the property through First State Bank of St. Charles.
Silas Properties, LLC is registered through the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office as a limited liability company and lists Burgess as the registered agent.
A review of Burgess’ account revealed that between April 20-29, 2017, Burgess and/or Govreau made withdrawals from the account for Bill.com, Capital One, American Express, Chase, Graham Anderson, Missouri Land Rental, Butterfields Florist, Matt Burgess, Bret Burgess, Zack Govreau, and Jessica Burgess.
None of the transactions were for payment costs associated with the construction of the house, but instead personal expenses of both Burgess and Govreau, according to the records. By April 29, 2017, the balance of the account was $538.88.
As a result of the ongoing civil suit, Wessel was allowed to take possession of the home around Sept. 24, 2017.
After assuming ownership, Wessel had to pay an additional $62,845 to local contractors to complete the construction of the home.
Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com
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