COEUR d’ALENE — A would-be rapper and professional landscaper who stole more than $50,000 from clients will serve time behind bars at a state-run rehabilitation program as part of a 10-year sentence.
Prosecutors wondered out loud Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene’s First District Court if 33-year-old Anton R. Hale was ready to take responsibility.
“I have never seen a defendant who victim blamed so much,” deputy prosecutor Jed Whitaker said. “He minimizes his part when it’s really all his fault. It’s not the victim’s fault. It’s not the economy’s fault ... it’s all his fault.”
Hale — who told a dozen clients he was an artist who was cutting a rap album when he contracted for their business, before walking off with their cash and failing to complete the promised work — was charged with 12 counts of grand theft.
Kootenai County detectives had uncovered a money trail of payments ranging from $1,500 to $13,500 deposited into Hale’s bank account for unfinished projects including retaining walls, fountains, fire pits and landscaping.
In one case, Hale took $6,000 from a prospective client to build an altar with a water feature for a daughter’s wedding. Hale dumped a load of rock and moved some dirt, but the wedding at the rural Athol property came and went while Hale had ditched the project and cashed the check, records show.
In another case, Hale was hired to plant trees and landscape a Huntsman Road property. The contractor delivered the trees, but they sat in balls of sackcloth unwatered and unplanted. The work, although partially paid, went unfinished.
At an earlier hearing, Hale’s attorney spent a half hour walking through a list of work Hale had done for his clients, telling the court Hale had difficulties meeting his obligations. The economy tanked, a Government Way construction project prevented deliveries at Hale’s business, Northern Nature Landscape and Design, and family matters such as the death of his grandmother gouged his time.
Property owners told detectives Hale threatened them when they asked about the unfinished projects. They did not report the threats because Hale scared them, according to police reports.
Hale pleaded guilty earlier this year to one felony as part of an agreement that mandated he make restitution payments of $500 monthly, but Hale failed to live up to the agreement.
“He wants to make things right,” Hale’s attorney Monica Rector said.
District Judge Cynthia K.C. Meyer sentenced Hale to a fixed three-year prison term for one count of grand theft, and tagged on 7 years of indeterminate time that is used at the discretion of the Idaho Department of Corrections. The judge, however, retained jurisdiction for a term of several months, which means Hale is given a chance to prove himself by attending a prison rehabilitation program. If he fares well there, he will be placed on probation for the remainder of his sentence. If he fails to take responsibility, and gets a lousy report card, the judge could impose the 3- to 10-year sentence.
“There is no excuse for taking the money ... you get the supplies and do the job. It should be that simple, but in case after case after case, it was not,” Meyer said. “This is theft, plain and simple.”