, Salem, MA

March 25, 2014

Our view: High bail welcome but overdue in fraudulent contractor case

The Salem News

---- — James McCarthy is a menace, prosecutors say.

The 53-year-old contractor from Boxford has bilked homeowners and developers across Eastern Massachusetts of tens of thousands of dollars for jobs that were either shoddily done or not done at all, they say.

In the process, they say, he has put lives at risk and needs to be stopped.

So, we cheer Salem Superior Court Judge John Lu’s decision to hold McCarthy on $400,000 bail and impose tight restrictions on any release.

If McCarthy makes bail, the judge said, he must remain under house arrest except for medical emergencies and court appearances. The judge also banned McCarthy from using the Internet or even having a connection to the Web in his home. And he can’t use a smartphone. It’s back to the ’’80s for McCarthy.

Prosecutors asked for even higher bail, $1 million, citing McCarthy’s threat to the community.

That sounded extreme to defense lawyer Scott Gleason of Haverhill.

“There are murderers, rapists, who’ve never been requested to have bail like that,” he said, suggesting the case was only about “a few thousand bucks.”

Really? Consider the charges against McCarthy, as detailed by reporter Julie Manganis:

Last fall, McCarthy persuaded Judge Lu to reduce his bail from $10,000 to $7,500 in a contractor fraud case so he could get out of Jail.

When he posted the bail and was released, prosecutors say, McCarthy went back to his fraudulent ways.

By then his name was mud, so he chose to work under a series of aliases — names borrowed from legitimate home improvement contractors, authorities say.

Last December, McCarthy took a job demolishing a cottage on Plum Island under the name “Jeff Schwartz,” using not only a stolen or bogus name but also an insurance binder with the forged name of an insurance agent who had died months earlier, according to prosecutors.

Operating an excavator without a license, McCarthy took down a neighbor’s chimney as well as the cottage.

Prosecutor Phil Mallard showed the judge a video of the contractor’s botched demolition job to support his argument for high bail.

Mallard said McCarthy then hired unskilled workers to replace the neighbor’s chimney. Those workers installed a chimney cap over the flues for the home’s heating and hot water systems. The backed-up carbon monoxide might have killed the homeowners had the general contractor not noticed the cap.

“He poses a significant and unique risk to public safety,” Mallard said.

We agree.

So did Judge Lu, who noted that almost half of the indictments against McCarthy relate to alleged crimes that occurred after McCarthy was released on bail with a warning from Lu to keep his nose clean.

The high bail and restrictions on McCarthy’s activities seem about right. We only wish they had been imposed last fall before prosecutors say McCarthy embarked on a new wave of fraud.

But two old sayings apply to Judge Lu’s reversal of opinion after giving McCarthy a break last fall.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

And: Better late than never.