URBANA — A Rantoul man found guilty a year ago of nine counts of felony theft related to services and goods he took from eight contractors who worked on his downtown building has been sentenced to probation.
Chuck Duckworth, 49, who intended to fix up the former Litchfield Hardware store at 114 Kentucky Ave. in Rantoul and turn it into commercial space and his own living quarters, on Wednesday was sentenced to four years probation, ordered to make restitution of $95,331 and to perform 200 hours of public service work.
The offenses occurred from August 2014 through August 2015. Circuit Judge Roger Webber denied Duckworth’s bid for a new trial.
Duckworth’s attorney, Jarrett Adams of New York, argued the offenses committed by Duckworth did not merit felony charges but should have been settled in a civil court.
Adams said Duckworth knew a $50,000 village of Rantoul microloan to be paid back over 15 years would not be enough to pay for all the contract work on the building.
But Adams said Duckworth had received help from his family in fixing up two other properties and had been told he would receive family financial help renovating the Kentucky Avenue building.
In trial he said he had been expecting to receive $175,000 inheritance from his father’s estate.
"There’s no way Mr. Duckworth goes in and says, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this work and then file bankruptcy and ruin my credit.’" Adams said, adding
Duckworth had no other choice than to file bankruptcy after the contractors came after his client for immediate payment.
Assistant State’s Attorney Joel Fletcher argued Duckworth continued to "make contract after contract" despite knowing he didn’t have the money to pay off the companies. Fletcher said in one instance, Duckworth told a contractor the village of Rantoul was holding up some of the work.
Adams, however, said Duckworth tried to set up a payment plan with one contractor, who refused, saying he needed the money immediately to pay his employees.
Fletcher said Duckworth had a chance to make things right with at least some of the contractors. He cited Good Vibes, Champaign, which asked to be able to retrieve the stereo equipment it had installed in the building. Fletcher said Duckworth was not there when he said he would meet Good Vibes personnel and was "non-communicative" in other retrieval attempts.
Danny Davis of Davis Floor Sanding and Refinishing, rural Urbana, said he was not paid for $20,195 worth of flooring work in Duckworth’s building and had to take out a home-equity loan to pay back the loss.
Davis said Duckworth wrote a letter to the attorney general’s office complaining Davis had overcharged him by $10,000, did that amount of damage to the floor and that his men smoked dope on the job and made fun of Duckworth. Davis, however, said he received text messages from Duckworth praising him for the floor work and said he would recommend him to other people.
Davis said when he told Duckworth how much the floor work would cost before the job started, Duckworth assured him he had $31,000 in the bank to pay him.
Steve Suderman, owner of Good Vibes, said his company took a $6,964 loss due to Duckworth’s failure to pay.
He said his company installed a dozen speakers, electronics to run them and a television. Suderman said one of his staff saw a Facebook garage sale site ad in December 2017 in which Duckworth was selling the TV Good Vibes had installed.
Adams asked Suderman if he could be absolutely sure it was the same TV and whether the serial number was listed, and Suderman said he couldn’t be positive.
Wesley Ifft, install manager of Lanz Heating and Cooling, Champaign, said Duckworth never paid his company for $31,833 worth of plumbing and HVAC work.
Fletcher argued for a sentence of five years in prison and restitution.
He said the contractors as well as the village of Rantoul were Duckworth’s victims. Fletcher said while Duckworth was left with a building he says he can’t re-sell, it was improved.
"If he pays his mortgage, he’s got a luxury apartment at a discount rate," Fletcher said.
Adams asked Webber for any alternative that would not put his client in prison.
In a statement to the court, Duckworth said he was sorry for the outcome and had never intended to deceive anyone.
Prior to sentencing, Webber cited a Tazewell County misdemeanor deceptive practices case involving Duckworth. Duckworth, however, disputed he was involved with that case.
Webber said he didn’t know if Duckworth would be able to make restitution to the victims and that he would be allowed to seek additional time to do so. Duckworth said is not employed and has been having trouble getting work. He formerly was the owner of his own cleaning service.