ROCKLAND — The former owner of the defunct Castle Builders contractor company in Union, charged with stealing more than $400,000 from customers, pleaded not guilty this week to two counts of theft by deception.

Malcolm Stewart entered his pleas May 20 during an online Zoom arraignment before Justice Jeffrey Hjelm, who was at the Knox County Superior Court. Stewart, who now resides in Pelzer, South Carolina, will remain free on $50,000 unsecured bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for July 27.

Fifty-six victims were listed in the indictment with the amount of thefts totaling $437,906. The offenses are alleged to have occurred from April 2018 until September 2019 in Knox, Waldo, Hancock, Kennebec, Lincoln and Somerset counties.

The other theft count alleges Stewart committed theft by deception by telling a couple 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 Stewart knew he would not be able to repay it.

The December 2019 indictment states the loan was for more than $10,000, but the AG’s office said in a news release that the loan was for $50,000.

These are the first criminal charges filed since the abrupt closure of Castle Builders in September 2019.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office had filed a civil lawsuit against Stewart and his wife, Elizabeth, and Castle Builders, accusing them of bilking more than 100 people out of more than $1 million. The AG is suing the couple under the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Law.

The AG began the investigation after numerous complaints were filed by customers, some before the couple closed their contracting business in September 2019.

The civil lawsuit alleges the Stewarts hired people to cold call homeowners in an effort to solicit business for Castle Builders. The Stewarts would then request down payments for work before beginning and often would seek a second advance payment before any work was done.

Much of their work was faulty, according to the state, resulting in damage to homes. In addition, electrical work was done by unlicensed workers and did not meet minimum standards.

The AG claims the Stewarts violated the unfair practice law by soliciting and accepting more than one-third down payments at the start. They also failed to give an expected start and completion time for the work as is required by the law.

The Stewarts have denied the claims in the lawsuit.

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