Occasionally, an upcharge of prices for a service is an honest mistake or a misunderstanding. However, when a worker overcharges a person on purpose, this can be considered larceny. In Commonwealth v. Watterson the Massachusetts Appeals Court examined a case where a defendant targeted and overcharged elderly customers for his services.
Defendant Watterson provided services as an oil burner technician, plumber, and drain specialist. The State alleged that he targeted and stole from various elderly and unsuspecting customers. The judge found him guilty of one count of larceny by false pretenses and one count of larceny from an elderly person. Defendant challenged the sufficiently of the evidence.
What happened in the Watterson case?
In late January of 2009. There was an issue with the heating system at the home of the Thomases. Mr. Thomas was 77 at the time and called the company Defendant worked at. Defendant recommended that the furnace needed a part that would cost between $100-$150. Mr. Thomas provided Defendant with his credit card number, and the next day, Defendant returned with a credit card slip for $250 which Mr. Thomas signed for. Defendant worked for 45 minutes installed the part and provided an updated slip to Mr. Thomas, which was for nearly $1750, more than the furnace is worth. Defendant began to walk off and told him this was a flat rate and he would be charged for it. Mrs. Thomas ran after Defendant and questioned him about the high price but he drove away. Defendant charged the Thomas’s credit card $1750.
After all of this trouble, the furnace still did not work. Despite multiple calls to Defendant’s business, the couple could not get into contact with anyone at the company. The Thomas’s had to buy small electric heaters to keep them from freezing.
The Thomas’s were not the only victims of Defendant’s scheme. The DeOliveria’s had a similar issue. Their heating system stopped working, and after contacting Defendant’s business, they hired Defendant to fix their heater. However, Defendant did not fix the issue, and charged the couple $500, leaving the heater broken.
Defendant had a history of up charging his customers, specifically elderly ones and those he considered to be “wealthy” which he based on the condition of the home and the items the client possessed.
Defendant argues that the State failed to prove the elements of larceny as to the Thomases and the DeOliverias. Larceny of an elderly person requires proof of the unlawful taking and carrying away of personal property of another with the specific intent to deprive the person of the property permanently, and that the person is at least sixty years old.
Defendant argues that this standard does not sufficiently prove his intent to steal, and the evidence tended equally to a finding of him making an honest mistake and that the Thomases consented to such a transaction.
The appellate court disagreed, and found that the evidence showed that the Thomas’s did not approve of the charge, and the honest mistake theory was far-fetched. Any professional in the field knows that $1750 for a repair is an excessive charge. Failure to make good on a commercial transaction or an honest mistake is not what happened here. In fact, the Thomas’s disputed the charge explicitly and had a disagreement with the Thomas’s over the charge. Further, a rational factfinder could find the argument and departure of Defendant to be evidence of guilt.
This same reasoning can be applied to the DeOliverias. The evidence showed that he had only worked for fifteen minutes and replaced a $3.25 nozzle, so a bill of $500 was totally unreasonable. Additionally, Defendant failed to show an itemized list to the DeOliverias, further showing that this was more than a dispute overpricing.
The appellate court upheld the conviction of larceny based on the overwhelming evidence against Defendant.
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