January 24, 2013

Portland handyman testifies in own defense

Daniel Tucci blames health problems for his inconsistent work. The Attorney General's Office says he bilked Mainers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — A handyman from Portland who has been sued by the state's Consumer Protection Division took the stand in his own defense Thursday, offering hours of rambling and, at times, emotional testimony about his business and workmanship.

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Daniel Tucci appears at his trial in Cumberland County Superior Court on Wednesday.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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In a lawsuit filed in March, the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office claimed that Daniel Tucci, 54, misled customers about his skills and then pressured them to agree to additional work that he sometimes failed to complete.

Tucci did business under a variety of names including Dan the Handy Man.

In Cumberland County Superior Court on Thursday, 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 hired day laborers, some from soup lines and some recently released from jail, to help him do construction in people's homes, he said. 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."

When his health declined, Tucci said, he rode around in a junk Cadillac to oversee work done for his business.

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."

Tucci was often distracted during his testimony and appeared to struggle to answer direct questions. At one point he got flustered, and after an outburst he drew a rebuke from Justice Joyce Wheeler, who threatened to end the trial if he could not contain himself.

The lawsuit names 13 customers who together paid Tucci $235,656 for work they deemed unsatisfactory.

On Friday, attorneys will offer closing arguments before the case goes to Wheeler for a decision, which is not expected immediately.

If Tucci is found liable, the court could bar him from offering home repair services, with possible criminal penalties if he fails to comply.

Wheeler also could order Tucci to pay restitution to his customers. But 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.

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

mbyrne@pressherald.com

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