ALFRED — A former oil dealer who took payments from customers without providing their heating fuel should be forced to sell his $400,000 home and a party barge to pay a state fine and restitution, state officials told a York County Superior Court justice Tuesday.

The long-running case of Nicholas Curro III, who was found guilty in 2008 of violating the state’s unfair trade practices law, will go on a while longer. The justice presiding over the case decided to wait at least 45 days before ruling on a motion by the state Attorney General’s Office to order Curro to begin making payments.

Justice Wayne R. Douglas said the state and Curro’s lawyer should try to negotiate a settlement on the restitution of nearly $400,000 to 313 former customers and a civil penalty of $250,000. Douglas said he hoped the two sides could work out a payment plan, but if not, he’ll issue a ruling on May 2.

Curro’s case dates to 2007, when he started selling pre-paid fuel plans to customers in York County while he fell behind on his account with his wholesale provider. When the time came to start filling customers’ tanks, he had no fuel, leaving hundreds of customers scrambling to find other suppliers despite having paid Curro for fuel. State authorities seized the records of his businesses – Price-Rite Fuel, Veilleux Oil and Perron Fuel – and charged him with violating state laws on pre-paid contracts.

George and Sally Trudeau were among the dozen or so of Curro’s former customers who attended the hearing. The couple lived in Waterboro when they paid $1,000 for a winter’s worth of oil. They and a group of friends and relatives went in together to buy oil, shopped around and then chose Curro because his prices were the best, George Trudeau said. The couple ended up running up a credit card bill to buy the oil that they didn’t get from Curro.

“Now, we’re hoping for anything,” he said.

TWO HOMES AND A PARTY BARGE

A guilty verdict holding Curro personally liable for the violations was upheld by the state Supreme Judicial Court in 2011. Following that ruling, Curro made about $7,000 in restitution payments before he stopped, said Linda J. Conti, an assistant attorney general, who asked Douglas to force Curro to make payments to the state.

Curro and his wife “own two homes and they have a party barge and they have lots of luxury items … and they choose not to pay our judgment,” Conti said at a hearing Tuesday morning. She told Douglas that if Curro can pay his mortgage and $278 a month on the boat, he could instead make payments to the state to cover his penalty and begin to make restitution to his former customers.

“He shouldn’t get to pick and choose what payment to make when he owes money to the state,” Conti said. Curro also owes the Internal Revenue Service a $45,000 judgment that has grown to $100,000 with penalties and interest, she said.

Curro’s lawyer, George Marcus, argued that the state has to collect restitution before it can seek to recover the penalty, although he didn’t say if or when Curro would start making those payments. Marcus also said the state’s proposals to collect restitution – seeking to sell Curro’s share of the house and party barge – would unfairly jeopardize the finances of Curro’s wife, who was not accused of wrongdoing.

Conti said the Biddeford Pool home, valued by the city at $400,000, and the party barge, worth $15,000, were owned by Curro and his wife before the state charged Curro. Marcus said the state hasn’t shown that the house and boat payments aren’t being made by Curro’s wife, who owns the construction business where Curro now works.

Conti said that’s because Curro only partially filled out a financial disclosure statement that is part of the court proceedings. It had incomplete information on Curro’s finances and none on his wife’s, she said.

Douglas told Marcus that Curro needs to finish filling out the form.

Marcus mocked the state’s proposals to sell half of the home or half of the boat. He said that plan would either fail or leave Curro’s wife with a worthless share of the property.

“Who’s going to want to buy a half interest?” he said. “The state is asking the court to do something rather silly.”

But Conti countered that the Curros’ finances are wrapped tightly together, possibly by design.

“We’re not going after her, but because their finances are so intertwined, she’s going to be impacted,” Conti said.

UNPAID CUSTOMERS FRUSTRATED

Also attending the hearing was former customer Karl Stevens of Biddeford, who said he’s been to four or five similar hearings over the years.

“It’s frustrating,” said Stevens, who paid Curro $500 for fuel oil he never got.

Stevens said he appreciated the state’s efforts to collect, but “we’re just going to be back here in another 45 days.”

Karen Tufts, of Wells, said she, too, was frustrated and wonders if she will ever get back the $2,000 she paid Curro.

Tufts had planned to attend Tuesday’s hearing, but couldn’t because a child was sick.

“I’m really disappointed,” she said when told of the judge’s decision to delay a ruling, adding that Curro seemed to be able to use the system to delay justice.

Curro should be ordered forced to pay restitution, however the state is able to force it, Sally Trudeau said.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said.