Sign firm owner is accused of theft
A man who allegedly sold defective neon signs to numerous businesses across the Grand Valley, or sometimes allegedly delivered no sign at all, is being criminally charged by the district attorney’s office.
Martin Duarte, owner of the now-defunct business Premier Signs & Neon, was formally charged with four felony counts of theft in a Mesa County court on Friday.
According to a warrant for Duarte’s arrest, the alleged thefts resulted from payments to Duarte over the past three years by local business owners looking to purchase new signs for their businesses, signs which were either delivered unsatisfactorily or never delivered at all.
The payments and correlated criminal charges add up to more than $55,000 in theft, according to Duarte’s arrest affidavit.
The affidavit describes the cases of three Grand Junction business owners who reported fraudulent business dealings between themselves and Duarte to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.
Greg Coffman, owner of Insurance Planning Alternatives, 315 N. Seventh St., claims he paid Duarte more than $13,000 for a new sign, but was given a far less valuable sign long after he was promised it. Coffman filed a civil suit against Duarte, which he won in November 2015, though he said on Saturday he never received the court-ordered reparations from Duarte.
“I’ve never held my breath about getting any of my money back,” said Coffman when asked whether he was hopeful the criminal case might bring about repayment.
“It’s more a matter of justice and principle,” Coffman said.
He said he wants other people in the community to be aware of what’s happening so they don’t fall victim to the same bad business practices, and he’s impressed that Mesa County is taking the cases against Duarte seriously.
“I am so pleased that the District Attorney’s Office took a look at the overwhelming body of evidence and said, ‘You know, this is bad,’ ” Coffman said.
Duarte’s dealings have been the subject of more than a dozen civil lawsuits in the county since 1999, and he’s allegedly owed thousands of dollars to local business owners as a result of those suits — most, if not all, of which remained unpaid when the Sentinel reported on the issue last spring.
Another alleged victim of Duarte’s listed in his arrest affidavit, Niki Hunn, who owns Thomas Hunn Jewelers with her husband, also filed and won a civil suit against Duarte in May 2016. Hunn said she paid $7,573.22 for a sign but received a far inferior one that was delivered months late.
A third case detailed in Duarte’s affidavit involves gastroenterology business owners Saba Rizvi and her husband Masi Khaja. According to the affidavit, Rizvi ordered a sign from Duarte in July 2015, paying a $25,000 deposit followed by another $10,000 payment two months later.
In April of the following year, Rizvi claimed she could not get in touch with Duarte by phone and had still not received her sign, though the checks she’d paid Duarte had been cashed.
Duarte faces three possible class 5 felony counts of theft for defrauding Coffman, Hunn and Rizvi, each for dollar amounts of between $5,000 and $20,000. A fourth class 4 felony charge is possible for theft of between $20,000 and $100,000 in connection to the Rizvi deposit payment.