An Elkhorn contractor denies diverting more than $360,000 meant for a town of La Grange couple’s construction project to personal purchases that include a Mercedes and a home in Michigan, court records show.

John M. Roberts, 59, of W5503 Rocky Road, pleaded not guilty Aug. 2 to a charge of theft by contractor filed July 10. He is accused of making the unauthorized expenditures between August 2014 and September 2015.

The couple expected the money, which was withdrawn from an escrow account set up for the project, would go toward property improvements, labor, materials and construction fees, according to the criminal complaint. Instead, Roberts used money for a lake home, a restaurant, vehicles and checks for himself and his wife, according to the complaint.

The complaint lists more than 40 checks written from Roberts’ business account that don’t appear to have a connection to the couple’s project.

The couple on July 2, 2018, went to the sheriff’s office and filed a theft complaint. The couple said they contracted Robert’s Design Corporation at a price of about $1.6 million to tear down and rebuild a home, according to the complaint. The complaint later references a Robert’s Premier Design.

Roberts had a trial scheduled for the month before, but it was postponed because he filed for bankruptcy, the complaint states.

Additionally, Roberts was convicted June 8, 2015, on a charge of theft by deception, the complaint states. The town of La Grange couple told police that between their contract date and the conviction, Roberts had stopped paying subcontractors who were working on the home. This left the couple to use their own funds.

After the couple reported the incident to the sheriff’s office, a detective July 17, 2018, met with their attorney, who said the couple’s money had been put into an account held by Chicago Title, according to the complaint. The money then went to Roberts and subcontractors.

Roberts, the complaint states, got deposits the couple put into the Chicago Title account in the amounts of:

  • $143,000 in November 2014
  • $267,005 in January 2015
  • $44,000 in March 2015
  • $172,027.50 in April 2015
  • $278,850 in June of 2015

The sheriff’s detective reviewed a transcript from a civil court matter in which Roberts was asked why he paid personal expenses through his business account.

The Elkhorn man said he did not have a personal checking account because it was “one more thing to keep track of,” the complaint states.

“I don’t really need one,” he said, according to the complaint.

The detective confirmed Roberts bought property in Manistee, Michigan, for $140,000.

Roberts is next set to appear in court at 1:15 p.m. Sept. 27.