Saturday, May 25, 2002

Builder denies bad-check charge


Erpenbeck pleads not guilty in Boone courtroom

By Patrick Crowley, pcrowley@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — A. William “Bill” Erpenbeck sat quietly in the front row of a Boone County courtroom Friday — his hands folded and head down — as he waited his turn before Boone District Judge Michael Collins.

[photo] A. William “Bill” Erpenbeck (second from right) enters Boone County Court, where he pleaded not guilty Friday to a felony charge of writing a bad check.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        After a parade of people accused of drug possession, drunken driving, theft and assorted other charges appeared before the judge, Mr. Erpenbeck pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of writing a bad check for $258,399 to a subcontractor.

        Other than giving his name, date of birth and address of his Crestview Hills home, Mr. Erpenbeck, 41, said nothing, leaving the talking to his lawyer, Burr J. Travis of Busald, Funk & Zevely of Florence.

        Mr. Erpenbeck, the former head of the once-thriving Erpenbeck Co. home building firm of Edgewood, received a preliminary hearing date of July 17. Mr. Travis requested the hearing to review documents, including the check and records of Erpenbeck Co. accounts at Peoples Deposit Bank of Northern Kentucky.

        After standing before Judge Collins for less than a minute, Mr. Erpenbeck left the courtroom as he entered it, escorted by two Boone County deputy sheriffs.

STORY ARCHIVE
Click here for all Enquirer reports on Erpenbeck Co.
INVESTIGATION
If you have any additional information on the business dealings of the Erpenbeck Co. or Peoples Bank of Northern Kentucky - or on the involvement of any parties not yet identified in our coverage - please email Enquirer business reporter James McNair at jmcnair@enquirer.com or Kentucky Enquirer reporter Patrick Crowley at pcrowley@enquirer.com.
        Mr. Travis said there were no threats made against Mr. Erpenbeck. But it was clear from the presence of the armed escort that there was a concern that an Erpenbeck customer or contractor might try to confront the defendant during his court appearance.

        Mr. Erpenbeck, who has been staying with his family at their Fort Myers, Fla., condo for the past few weeks, is free on a $50,000 bond and will return for the hearing, Mr. Travis said.

        He has not been charged with any other crimes but is under investigation by federal authorities for allegations of bank fraud. He and Erpenbeck Co. employees are accused of diverting $15 million in cash and checks paid at property closings into Erpenbeck Co. accounts at Peoples.

        The Erpenbeck Co. and Mr. Erpenbeck — who in late March left the firm he founded in 1993 — also face dozens of suits and liens over millions of dollars in loans owed to banks and payments due to contractors.

        It was a check to Morris Heating and Cooling Inc. that landed Mr. Erpenbeck in court. Company owners Louie and Becky Morris of Burlington were in the courtroom Friday for Mr. Erpenbeck's arraignment.

        Mr. Morris said that in addition to the $258,399 check — which he said the Erpenbeck Co. has not attempted to make good — the company also owes him an additional $200,000 that he has tried to recover by placing liens on Erpenbeck-built homes and property.

        Mr. Morris also said he was not surprised that Mr. Erpenbeck pleaded not guilty to the one felony charge of theft by deception over $300, a crime punishable by one to five years in prison.

[photo] Louie and Becky Morris (above), owners of Morris Heating and Cooling, say Mr. Erpenbeck wrote them a bad check for $258,399 and that he owes them an additional $200,000.
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        “Because of the whole nature of this thing, nothing surprises me,” said Mr. Morris, an Erpenbeck subcontractor for six years.

        Later at his law office, Mr. Travis met reporters. Mr. Erpenbeck was not available to comment, he said.

        Mr. Travis said his defense of Mr. Erpenbeck will include:

        • An examination of the check, which Mr. Travis said might not have been signed by Mr. Erpenbeck. The name on the check might have been put on the check with a stamp and therefore not directly signed by Mr. Erpenbeck, Mr. Travis said.

        • An argument that since the check was post-dated, it was not actually a check but instead a promissory note, or a loan.

        • There was no actual criminal intent to steal the money. Mr. Travis said the day before the date on the check — Feb. 28 — someone from the Erpenbeck Co. called the Morrises to inform them that there was not enough cash in the company's accounts to cover the check and that it would be good at a later date. The check was deposited by the Morrises, then returned for insufficient funds in April.

        “Under the law, it's the intent at the time the goods were received, not the date the check was written,” Mr. Travis said. “And there was no criminal intent here to steal any goods.”
       



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