06/10/2015 03:07 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Reno ripoff fraud conviction upheld: contractor took older woman for $300K

TORONTO - A housing contractor who ripped off an older mentally ill woman to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars had his fraud conviction upheld Wednesday.

However, the province's top court did overturn a theft conviction against the man, saying the fraud finding essentially covered the crime because he hadn't taken the money without the women's knowledge or consent.

In its decision, the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected arguments from Jack Singer that there was nothing illegal about charging too much for his renovation work. Instead, Singer argued at a hearing earlier this month, he was simply setting a price for his work.

"Here, there was more than overcharging," the Appeal Court said in its decision.

The case arose in 2008, when Singer's Toronto company Stay in Place Renovations signed a contract with Kennis Heath, then 76, to do some exterior work on the house she had owned for 30 years. The deal was worth $5,617.50. However, within weeks, she signed two further agreements with him worth more than $317,000.

In all, Heath paid Singer $301,000 by raiding her savings and retirement plans — costing her almost $80,000 in income taxes — for work on a home worth about $400,000. At the time, her financial adviser restricted her to withdrawing $1,000 per month.

In November 2008, Heath's mental health deteriorated and, after a hospital stay, she ended up in a nursing home. Singer had completed none of the work and what he had done was deficient and left the house uninhabitable, court documents show.

Estimates were that the work he had already done was worth at most about $86,000.

Singer then told Heath's son that he wanted another $60,000 to complete the job. He never did finish the work nor did he refund any of the money.

In convicting him of fraud and theft in June 2013, the trial judge concluded Singer had grossly and deliberately overcharged the complainant by more than $200,000 — the work estimate had included a $40,000 commission payable to his partner for dropping off the advertising flyer that caught Heath's eye.

Superior Court Justice Glenn Hainey had sentenced Singer to a prison term of two years less a day and ordered him to repay Heath $215,000. The Appeal Court did not interfere with the punishment.