ROCKLAND — The Knox County grand jury has indicted the former owner of the defunct Castle Builders company in Union on charges that he stole nearly $500,000 through deception.

Malcolm Stewart, 56, who now lives in Pelzer, South Carolina, was indicted Thursday on two counts of Class B theft by deception, the first criminal charges to come out of the abrupt closure of Castle Builders in September 2019.

A Knox County Superior Court judge issued a warrant for Stewart’s arrest and set bail at $50,000 cash.

One charge contends that Stewart “intentionally created the impression that he had the capacity to complete construction, renovation and repair work” when in fact he knew that impression was false.

Fifty-six alleged victims were listed in the indictment with the amount of the thefts totaling $437,906.

The offenses allegedly occurred from April 2018 until September 2019 in Knox, Hancock, Kennebec, Lincoln and Somerset counties.

“A contractor who knowingly induces consumers to pay him money without intending to perform the promised services commits a criminal offense,” Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a news release Thursday.  “Obtaining money through deception is not just bad business; it’s theft, and it directly harms consumers who have in many cases saved money over time to pay for these services.”

The other count alleges that Stewart committed theft by deception by telling a couple that he could not complete work on their project without a loan. He claimed customers were not paying him and he had a cash flow problem but would be able to repay the loan. The indictment states that Stewart knew that he would not be able to repay the loan.

While the indictment states that the loan was for more than $10,000, the AG’s office said in a news release that the loan was for $50,000.

Stewart could not be reached for comment following the indictment. No defense attorney is listed in court.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office already has filed a lawsuit against Stewart and his wife, Elizabeth Stewart, and Castle Builders, accusing them of bilking more than 100 people out of more than $1 million.

In October 2020, the court appointed attorney Walter McKee of Augusta to serve as a neutral third party to mediate the lawsuit.

The attorney general is suing the couple under the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Law, claiming the Stewarts violated that law on multiple counts.

The AG began the investigation after numerous complaints were filed by customers.

In addition to the state’s lawsuit, a case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court continues.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Maine by the Stewarts indicate they have claims against them totaling $1,215,877. This includes $165,234 in taxes owed to the government.

There are 177 creditors listed in their bankruptcy filing with most of them former customers of Castle Builders. Former workers, suppliers and the government also are listed as creditors.

The Stewarts operated Castle Builders for nearly three years before abruptly closing it and their Agway store in Union in September 2019. The couple then moved to South Carolina to live with relatives.

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