Faith Gallinger had long wanted custom cabinets for her early 20th-century home in northeast Spokane. Ronald Glen Stratton seemed perfect for the task – he boasted of being able to do the work for only labor costs because he already had the supplies. But she had to act fast – someone else was looking at the same wood and supplies were limited.
More than a year and $2,500 later, the old, mismatched cabinets still in her kitchen serve as a reminder of what Gallinger, a 33-year-old pediatric nurse, says was a good but expensive lesson in the risky business of private contracting.
“I wouldn’t just assume that he was trying to scam me,” Gallinger said. “I guess I’m just kind of naive and very trusting. Well, maybe not anymore.”
Worse than a business deal gone bad, detectives and prosecutors allege it was a deliberate crime with at least 12 victims that Stratton has been committing for more than a decade.
Stratton, 59, was released on parole after serving three years of a 14-year prison sentence for eight counts of grand theft in Kootenai County in 1995 stemming from a similar scheme carried out there.
The 12 first-degree theft charges to which he’s pleaded not guilty allege he stole about $23,150 after promising carpentry work that was never completed.
Stratton isn’t licensed, and he’s also on probation for a grand theft conviction in Montana from 1996.
“Everybody that this happened to really feels stupid,” Gallinger said.
Though Stratton’s alleged victims don’t expect to ever be repaid, they’re hoping their stories can be a lesson for others.
Stratton, who was released from jail on his own recognizance after his arrest in October, said in a brief phone conversation last week that medical issues prevented him from completing the work. He said he worked “day and night” trying to catch up but suffered a stroke and had leg surgery. He added that the projects and supplies he stored in a shop have since been stolen.
“I’ve got the medical records to prove it, and I will fight it in court,” he said. “I’ve got this beat hands down. It was legit except for the license. I got fined for that, and that’s all there is to it.”
Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Bob Sargent said he’s considering Stratton’s criminal history when pursuing the case, which he expects will go to a jury. Trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 3.
Gallinger’s mother, Trudy Gallinger, introduced Faith and another daughter to Stratton after spotting his ad in the Nickel Nik classifieds. Trudy’s kitchen still has empty spaces where cabinets were to be installed.
“I learned a lot,” Trudy Gallinger said. “I’d never really dealt with a contractor before in that way. It just never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t be (who they say they are). I think if I had ever had a heads-up, I would have thought of it.”
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries recommends consumers always make sure contractors are licensed in order to protect themselves from theft and fraud.
The Idaho attorney general’s office won a civil award of $189,930 against Stratton in January 1995, but conceded that he owned virtually nothing and repayment was unlikely, according to previously published reports.
The schemes for which Stratton was convicted in Kootenai County stemmed from Stratton accepting thousands of dollars for construction work that he failed to complete. His public defender at the time said that Stratton pleaded guilty because he had a “moral and civil responsibility” to the victims but “circumstances got away from him” and “he lost control,” according to a 1995 Spokesman-Review article.
Robert Egland, 75, said he lost about $2,500 to Stratton for fence and kitchen work that was never finished.
“Every time he came to do something else he would change the whole story,” Egland said. “We were naive like everybody else. I fell for it hook, line and sinker.”
Stratton said he needed surgery, so Egland gave him $1,000.
“He signed something saying he’d pay it back in 30 days, and that was over a year ago and I haven’t seen a thing,” Egland said.
Trudy Gallinger repaid her daughters the money they gave Stratton because she said she felt horrible for introducing them to him.
Faith Gallinger said she gave Stratton a down payment in September 2010, then money on two more occasions. He returned to her home to make a layout of her kitchen and take measurements. He said he found a trim he thought would be perfect for her home, but he needed more cash. The work was never completed.
“To say it now I feel so dumb,” Gallinger said.
“Maybe that’s the worst part,” she continued. “I don’t feel like I can trust people now.”
Stratton said he’s confident he’ll prevail at trial.
“It’ll all come out in the wash,” he said.