A contractor who left three Rock County clients to pay tens of thousands of dollars in bills from subcontractors pleaded guilty to reduced charges in Rock County Court on Tuesday.

Thomas P. Mastin, 47, of Eau Claire was doing business as Timberland Builders when the offenses occurred, according to the criminal complaint.

Mastin was charged with three felony counts of theft in a business setting, but those charges were reduced to three counts of misdemeanor theft in a plea agreement announced in court Tuesday.

Judge John Wood went along with the terms of the agreement and sentenced Mastin to two years of probation, in large part because Mastin had repaid $115,026 that he owed and because he had no criminal record.

Mastin apologized, saying he didn’t understand the law at the time, but he knows that’s not an excuse.

Mastin said he did not benefit financially from the illegal dealings. He said he paid himself $2,500 in 2018 and 2019, and he had put $100,000 of his own money into the business to keep it going.

Mastin said he lost the business, ruined his reputation, lost friends and used up all his savings to pay what he owed, including his children’s college trust fund.

Kimberly Olson, who contracted for an addition to her house in the town of Rock in 2018, told the court she agreed with the plea agreement but made no other comment.

Olson and other homeowners had liens placed on their properties for bills from subcontractors that went unpaid on Timberland projects, according to the complaint.

Assistant District Attorney Jerry Urbik said the probation will prevent Mastin from committing similar crimes in the future.

“Hopefully there are no other ticking time bombs out there in terms of transactions where Mr. Mastin engaged in similar practices,” Urbik said. “I think this is clearly a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul in terms of his construction expenses, and that’s obviously not a way to do business.”

Defense attorney Rose Marie Yanke noted contractor-theft cases sometimes are handled in civil or bankruptcy courts, or, as in this case, criminal courts, “and oftentimes there’s not any clear distinction as to why some cases are treated differently.”

Yanke said Mastin did not know what contractor theft was but now understands that it’s a serious violation.

“It is clear to me you were way over your head,” Wood told Mastin. “… To your credit, you made all the victims whole, which you don’t see all that often in criminal court.”

Mastin is required to complete any assessments or treatment the Department of Corrections asks for while he is on probation. He also must pay court costs.

Mastin told Wood he now operates a pest-control business.