SOUTH GLENS FALLS — A local businesswoman is charged with stealing more than $1 million from upstate homebuyers through her manufactured and modular home business.
Sherrie A. Burton, 64, was arraigned Thursday in Moreau Town Court on theft and fraud charges; if convicted on all nine counts, she faces 10 to 20 years in prison. Bail was set at $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond.
The state Attorney General’s Office and state police investigated the case. The Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that Burton took deposits, down payments and full payments for houses through her businesses, Valued Manufactured Housing and Valued Homes, and used the money for personal expenses.
Prosecutors allege that between at least March 2015 and July 2018, Burton falsely told customers that they needed to make a substantial deposit in order for construction to begin on their new homes — manufacturers have no such requirement.
In some cases, prosecutors say, she used this money for purchases at Zynga Games, Amazon.com and the Home Shopping Network; expenditures at Turning Stone Resort and Casino; payments for hotels, groceries, gas and alcohol; credit card payments; and cash withdrawals.
In other cases, they said, she used new deposits to pay manufacturers for houses she’d promised to prior customers months earlier.
Also, prosecutors allege, Burton would obtain financing to buy floor plan or display homes and sell them as new. This left victims without legal title to the home and left lenders believing the homes were still on display at her business.
Many customers who paid Burton never received a home, and never got a refund of their money, the Attorney General’s Office said.
The criminal investigation commenced after multiple victims filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Bureau. The probe continues; so far, it has uncovered more than 40 victims in and around upstate New York,
Burton was charged with three counts of second-degree and five counts of third-degree grand larceny as well as one count of first-degree scheme to defraud, all felonies.
Manufactured and modular homes are essentially the same thing: factory-built structures transported by truck and trailer to a plot of land and placed on a foundation. Manufactured homes are constructed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s federal building code, while modular homes are built to state building standards.
Attorney General Letitia James urged buyers of both types of houses to exercise the same caution they would with any other major purchase, checking references and looking for any history of complaints against the seller.
The Better Business Bureau revoked its accreditation of Valued Manufactured Housing on Nov. 15, 2018, for not making a good-faith effort to resolve the disputes.
The BBB website shows 10 of these complaints, some with responses.
On Jan. 17, 2017, “Bruce and Sherrie” gave a lengthy explanation for the situation that led to a complaint and a promise to resolve the matter.
On Aug. 30, 2018, in the same response to multiple complaints, the unidentified writer states that she is distraught at her own incompetence; that the family business is shut down after 26 years; that her son Jeremy and her husband were integral to the business and had both died; and that she’d made arrangements with a builder so that customers would get their homes and not lose their money.
An obituary published in his native Utica indicates Bruce Burton died Feb. 12, 2017, and that he was predeceased by his son Jeremy.