TOMS RIVER – An Ocean County grand jury has accused a pair of home builders with walking away from more than 30 jobs after taking more than $2 million from customers to repair or elevate homes ravaged by superstorm Sandy, said Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer.
The grand jury handed up an indictment Wednesday charging Jonathan Price, 43, of Stafford and Scott Cowan, 58 of Demarest with 18 counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds.
Of the 18 charges, 10 accuse the pair of thefts up to $75,000, punishable by prison terms up to five years, while eight allege thefts greater than $75,000 and carry prison terms of five to 10 years.
Billhimer said Price and Cowan established now-defunct Price Home Group in February 2013, in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, and then preyed on homeowners impacted by the historic weather event. The pair entered into contracts with 31 homeowners in various municipalities in Ocean and Atlantic counties to repair or elevate storm-ravaged homes and then did little or none of the work for which they were paid in excess of $2 million, misappropriating the money to their personal use, the prosecutor said.
“These two defendants preyed upon numerous homeowners who were at the lowest, most vulnerable points of their lives following the devastation of superstorm Sandy,” Billhimer said. “They took advantage of people who were utterly helpless, who trusted that the defendants would help them get them back into their homes as quickly as possible. Rather than honor their contractual obligations, these defendant betrayed the victims’ trust in favor of their own unjust enrichment, and now they will be made to answer for their unscrupulous behavior.”
But Christopher Adams, the attorney representing Cowan, said he was disappointed the prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case into what he called “an unfortunate business failure.”
Once the prosecutor’s office started talking to Price Home Group’s distributors, the distributors began withholding materials and modular units from the builders, making it impossible for the builders to complete the work, Adams said.
“It’s really a shame that they turned this into a criminal case,” Adams said. “Price Home Group made every effort to complete these homes. The investigation put them out of business.
“Scott Cowan and Jonathan Price feel terrible for these homeowners,” the defense attorney added.
“This is a business failure and not the criminal acts” alleged, he said.
“The prosecutor forgets that Mr. Price and Mr. Cowan are presumed absolutely innocent in the eyes of the law and the public,” said Michael Baldassare, Price’s attorney. “Let me be very clear. This case will be aggressively defended.”
Billhimer said the economic crimes unit of his office conducted a “very extensive and thorough investigation.”
The prosecutor’s office was assisted by police in Stafford, Little Egg Harbor, Toms River and Long Beach Township, the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs and New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.
Price and Cowan were arrested in the case in May 2019. They are free as they await trial.
Kathleen Hopkins, a reporter in New Jersey since 1985, covers crime, court cases, legal issues, unsolved mysteries and just about every major murder trial to hit Monmouth and Ocean counties. Contact her at [email protected].