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Contractor who defrauded customers released on probation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A heating and cooling contractor who bilked customers out of more than $30,000 to fund his gambling habit was released from jail Tuesday to spend the rest of his sentence on probation.

Gary Lomax, 50, of St. Albans, has already spent 509 days behind bars since he was arrested in November 2011. He was sentenced to three one- to 10-years sentences for each felony conviction of obtaining by false pretenses, but allowed to serve five years probation instead. 

But Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey said, "I feel strongly that you should not be out and about among the citizens of this community because of your conduct. But I don't think the jail system needs to bear any further expense.

"It's time for you to get on with the business of paying back," she said.

Lomax was ordered to make restitution to eight victims, including an 83-year-old woman who gave him more than $11,000 but Lomax never did any of the work he promised.

Her daughter, Anita Stonestreet, was in court to speak about that fraud. She said Lomax told her mother she needed repairs, mold treatment, insulation, a sump pump, a humidifier, a French drain in her backyard, a UV lighting system and other work.

He collected much of the money up front, returning to the victim over and over again until Stonestreet intervened after investigating him.

"You showed a total lack of respect for her life," she said of her mother. "I believe the stress he caused her contributed to a stroke she had. But even after the stroke, he kept coming back asking for more money."

When another company was called in, they determined none of the equipment or work Lomax said he had done was actually there. Some of the plumbing repairs were done backwards.

The judge ordered Lomax to participate in a gambling addiction program for the full length of his probation. She also ordered that he not own any business or work in any heating or cooling work.

Lomax must work, however, and pay at least $520 monthly toward restitution for the victims. Because Lomax was also ordered to never contact any of the victims in any way, including through social media, the probation department will administer that money.

Bailey also ordered that Lomax write letters of apology to each victim, and the probation officer will deliver those if appropriate.

"While we don't see any crimes of violence here, we have victims of your conduct," the judge said. "I tried to imagine the person who could take advantage of this elderly person to the point I'd consider it abuse -- totally dishonestly and the theft of her money for services that were never intended to be performed."

Lomax inherited Lomax Heating and Cooling from his father, and his attorney said he ran the company successfully for a time.

Public Defender Barbara Brown said, "But he hit a snag. His wife got multiple sclerosis and he has a gambling problem. He was overwhelmed.

"It's not an excuse, judge, but we're trying to explain how it can happen," she said. "And that slide took innocent victims."

Lomax said he is a former Eagle Scout and church deacon with no other criminal background.

"I'm sorry for my wrongdoings and the hardship on their part," he said.

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cherylc@dailymail.com or 304-348-4832.


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