January 26, 2013

Judge to decide case against Portland handyman

Daniel Tucci says he "would never would bully an elderly person," but his customers and the state have tried to convince the court otherwise.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Attorneys in the civil case against a Portland handyman made their final arguments Friday, ending a four-day trial in Cumberland District Court. 

click image to enlarge

John Ewing/staff photographer... Wednesday, January 23, 2013......Trial in Cumberland County Superior Court in the civil case of Daniel Tucci, a handyman accused of not following through on repairs and charging for work not done.

Justice Joyce Wheeler will now consider the evidence in the case and render a decision on whether Daniel Tucci, 54, should be barred by the state from performing home-improvement projects in the future.

Tucci, who advertised as Dan the Handyman, could also be made to pay restitution for $235,656 in faulty or incomplete repairs he performed for 13 customers named in the suit. 

During the trial, Wheeler heard testimony of more than a dozen victims and saw hundreds of photos entered as exhibits showing the work Tucci performed. Wheeler's decision could take weeks, and there is no deadline, according to the Maine Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection. 

Witnesses testified that Tucci was an unreliable contractor, left jobs unfinished and performed low-quality work. In some cases his customers – many of whom are elderly – described how Tucci would incrementally pressure them to expand the scope of a job before he finished the tasks he initially agreed to perform.

On Thursday afternoon, during four hours of rambling and sometimes emotional testimony, Tucci attributed his inconsistent work to injuries and recurring health problems, caused first by a major car accident in 2005, then by a stroke in late 2010 that left him partially paralyzed.

"I'm not a healthy person," Tucci said. "It's not me that's working now, it's my guys working for me."

When business picked up and his health declined, Tucci said he hired day laborers, some from soup lines and some recently released from jail, to help him do construction in people's homes. He called it the "David method," an apparent biblical allusion to Christian charity.

Tucci listed the names of nearly a dozen helpers, including one man known to him only as "Crowbar."

While a few witnesses called by the defense said Tucci was reliable, Tucci appeared to concede in his own testimony that some of his work was less than satisfactory.

"I was doing small jobs. I should have kept it that way," he said. "I blew up, and I blew up hard."

Even if Wheeler rules against him, Linda Conti, chief of the Consumer Protection Division and a litigator in the case, said extracting financial penalties from Tucci could prove difficult.

Some people included in the lawsuit reported small sums paid to Tucci – fees for patching a roof or installing a handrail – while others reported giving him tens of thousands of dollars for large renovations and complex projects that he allegedly was unequipped to complete.

• One elderly couple from Cape Elizabeth paid nearly $140,000 to waterproof their basement. After six months of apparently unnecessary labor and expense -- including extensive excavation -- the obvious water leak persisted.

• Another elderly couple, who now live in South Portland, said they paid Tucci $56,589 for major work to their home in Westbrook. The faulty work brought down the value of their home, caused months of aggravation and depleted their life savings, they said.

• In a third case, a South Portland woman gave Tucci more than $11,800 for renovations that he never completed, she said.

Tucci spoke Thursday of his conversion to Christianity, and how before he found God in 1989, he intentionally misled customers into believing that he was licensed to do plumbing and electrical work – state accreditations he has never held.

"Before 1989, I'd say, 'Of course I have a license,'" Tucci said.

But in court testimony this week, customers from Westbrook to Cape Elizabeth described how Tucci, who advertised in local newspapers under several business names, would write numerous estimates, sometimes more than a dozen for a single job, and incrementally ask for more and more money. 

In two cases, the suit alleges, he convinced elderly residents to borrow money to pay him. Few of those who testified said they received satisfactory work.

"He said he could do anything," said Richard Ashley, 75, a retired police officer who lived in Westbrook when he contracted with Tucci. Ashley and his wife, Barbara, who now live in South Portland, paid $56,589 for an extensive remodeling job, according to court records. The shoddy work brought down the value of their home, which the couple sold at a loss, they said.

"I know we won't get our money back, but I hope (this case) stops this guy from pulling the same shenanigans he pulled," Richard Ashley said.

Tucci's attorney, Rubin G. Segal, has denied that Tucci was guilty of any wrongdoing.

"I never would bully an elderly person," Tucci said when the civil lawsuit was filed in March of last year.

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

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