A local business man pleaded not guilty on Monday to theft charges when he appeared before circuit court Judge David Reynolds.
Michael James Wickherst, owner of Conway Roofing LLC, was arrested and charged with 18 counts of theft based on allegations that he received payment for work that his company did not complete.
His bond was set at $250,000 and Cody Hiland, 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney said that the evidence provided in the case clearly warranted Wickherst’s arrest.
"The evidence was sufficient to move forward with prosecution of Mr. Wickherst and we intend to do that," Hiland said.
Wickherst also faces a consumer protection lawsuit filed by Dustin McDaniel, Attorney General for the State of Arkansas. McDaniel announced his decision to file a suit against Wickherst in March, stating that Wickherst used a Ponzi scheme to defraud more than 75 customers of $250,000.
The lawsuit against Conway Roofing LLC alleges that the company actively pursued new clients, who paid large insurance proceeds to them, in advance for roof repairs. However, the money from the new clients was then used to fund roofing work already promised to existing clients.
Thurl Smith of Greenbrier is one of the listed victims in the criminal suit filed against Wickherst on Monday and he explained how he was duped by Wickherst’s company.
"A salesman from Conway Roofing showed up and wanted to know if he could inspect my roof for damage done by hail and I agreed," he said. "He told me there was damage and I called my insurance company to verify the damage. The insurance company and the salesman agreed on a price and I was given a check for the repairs. The salesman told me he would fix the roof and the repairs would only cost me the amount the insurance company gave me and if I would cut them a check for the balance, they would also fix something else I needed done for free."
After Smith wrote the check and the company agreed to start work on his roof in a few weeks, the repairs were never completed. Smith said he called the company several times and demanded his money back, but was told the repairs would be done. He finally got tired of waiting and filed a complaint with McDaniel’s office. Smith said he is relieved a suit was also filed in Faulkner County and was in the court room on Monday to hear Wickherst, via satellite, plead not guilty to the charges.
"I have never seen Wickherst in person, so I wanted to see what he looks like," Smith said. "His mother stood up to speak with the judge about his bond amount and I spoke with her after the hearing. I told her that her son knew what he did was wrong because I have the returned check that proves he took my money."
Smith said he is hoping for something good to come out of the ordeal because he is still living with a roof that leaks and doesn’t have the money to have someone else fix it.
"I’m sitting here waiting for something to happen with a roof that leaks when it comes a hard rain," he said. "I don’t have the money to pay someone else to fix it, so I have run out of options."
Documentation filed through McDaniel’s office indicate that Wickherst, had used funds collected from clients to fund his personal lifestyle for items such as rent, tuition for his children, art lessons, home movie rentals, grocery items at various Kroger stores, tickets for a Justin Bieber concert, a purchase at Cupid’s in Conway and several transactions to his personal account totaling tens of thousands of dollars.
He will make his next court appearance on Oct. 24.
As of 5 p.m. Monday evening, he was still in custody at the Faulkner County Detention Center.
(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at email@example.com)