The case before the state’s top court involves the review of a Court of Appeals decision against Steven George Stratacos, a building contractor who operated under the name Steve George. He is fighting his 25-year sentence on multiple counts of theft by deception.
Stratacos testified at his 2007 Clarke County trial that a back injury and a drinking problem kept him from completing the 10 jobs in which he was charged with defrauding homeowners who had paid for modifications. The jury heard from the homeowners as well as from five others from neighboring counties who made similar claims that resulted in his earlier convictions there.
Tuesday, his lawyer Nathanael Horsley told the high-court justices that the Athens prosecutors never proved that the money lost in four of the Athens cases totaled more than the $500 threshold that would make the crime a felony. While he collected thousands of dollars in advance, partial payments from the victims, he did some of the work and had intended to finish it, Horsley said.
“It becomes a little less simple when you look at the case law,” he said.
He traced the current law’s origins backward through its various revisions to the 1903 version, giving explanations for each wording change. He argued lawmakers drafted the critical wording change to prevent sharecroppers from being thrown into jail for walking off the job before completion.
“The evil that was trying to be avoided here was involuntary servitude,” Horsley said.
He argued that the Athens prosecutors would have had to call an expert witness to testify about the value of the work completed and the work remaining in order to prove Stratacos guilty of a felony.
Assistant District Attorney James Chafin was miffed.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in the Supreme Court of Georgia arguing anything about going back to a share-cropper case,” he said.
He said Horsley is wrong in his reading of the law and that the Court of Appeals is correct. Having the victims testify about what they paid Stratacos and how he left the job incomplete was sufficient to prove the case, he said.
The court gave no indication how it will rule. It will hand down its decision in three or four months.