BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — When newspapers ran stories last summer detailing numerous criminal allegations against an unlicensed home improvement contractor, James McCarthy didn’t let the bad publicity stop him, prosecutors say.
Instead, McCarthy became William “Bill” Mitchell, the owner of a company called Blue Whale Construction. And when the heat started coming down on “Mitchell,” he became Jeff Schwartz, owner of Pegasus Construction, prosecutors say.
Now McCarthy, who lists addresses in Groveland and Boxford, is behind bars, held both on $250,000 cash bail and the 60-day revocation of his bail in six pending cases from last summer, when he was first charged — and first gained notoriety through stories in the Eagle-Tribune and the Boston Globe.
State police and the district attorney’s office executed a search warrant at the Boxford address, 181 Topsfield Road, yesterday morning and arrested McCarthy.
They believe that in the six months since he was first charged in Haverhill District Court, he has accepted more than $100,000 in checks for work that was not done.
He is facing new charges that include larceny by false pretense, felony larceny and violating the state’s home improvement contractor law.
He made two court appearances yesterday, the first in Newburyport District Court, where, over the objection of prosecutors, he was released by Judge Allen Swan.
But when McCarthy and his attorney, Sean Gleason, showed up at Salem District Court yesterday afternoon, Judge Matthew Machera came to a different conclusion, granting prosecutor Phil Mallard’s request for high bail. McCarthy was put into handcuffs in the courtroom.
Prosecutors say McCarthy, who turns 53 today, possessed no license to work as a home improvement contractor, and no license to operate heavy equipment, as he also allegedly did.
Instead, they say, he forged insurance certificates, stole information about legitimate contractors (including the real Bill Mitchell and Jeff Schwartz, who are licensed contractors who do not know McCarthy) and made up addresses for his latest businesses.
The owners of a Methuen company that had hired McCarthy last year to renovate homes on Longfellow Road in Wenham and Bedford Street in Salem at first had no reason to be suspicious of the man they found on Craigslist, according to court documents.
But as they noticed an ever-changing crew of workers on the job site, and heard people referring to the man they called “Bill” as “Jim,” they got suspicious, according to court documents.
Mallard, the prosecutor, said McCarthy had been paid more than $50,000 by the owners of the business, Simple Home Solutions.
McCarthy arranged for a Dumpster to be brought to the Salem site, but the bill for the debris container was never paid, and the company that owned the Dumpster was threatening to slap a lien on the property. So was National Lumber, which had delivered wood to the site, the prosecutor said.
Investigators have also learned that McCarthy was hired by a company doing construction work on the Newburyport end of Plum Island, where they say he was operating heavy equipment without a license. In the process, a neighbor’s home was damaged, said the prosecutor.
In addition, investigators believe McCarthy was using the information on checks to set up fraudulent electronic transfers. Personal and business checks contain account numbers as well as routing numbers, which McCarthy allegedly used to move money out of customer accounts.
Investigators conducting the search yesterday also discovered what appeared to be a forged power of attorney for McCarthy’s own mother on a printer in his home.
Gleason, his attorney, argued that McCarthy did not need a license for the type of work he was doing, because the homes were unoccupied — a statement that Mallard jumped on, suggesting that it sounded like an admission that he was the individual posing as Bill Mitchell.
Mallard said prosecutors are preparing to seek indictments against McCarthy, which would move his cases to Superior Court — and open the door to possible state prison time.
A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Feb. 14.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.