3 guilty of scamming homeowners after Hurricane Michael

Pictures still hang from the wall of a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Michael on October 17, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida. The hurricane hit on October 10 along the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm causing massive damage and claimed the lives of more then a dozen people.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Three men have pleaded guilty to scamming Florida Panhandle homeowners out of about $319,000 by promising to repair hurricane damage and never doing the work.

Edward Newton, Christoper Mayes and Christian Pantazonis each pleaded guilty Wednesday in Tallahassee federal court to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to court records. The Tampa Bay area men each face up to 20 years in prison at a July 2 sentencing.

Newton, 45, hired Mayes, 29, and Pantazonis, 31, in November 2018, about a month after Hurricane Michael hit Florida, according to an indictment. The men went door to door in Bay County to solicit home repair contracts. The men collected down payments for the supposed purpose of buying building materials, prosecutors said. When major repairs never started, Newton initially told complaining homeowners that he would provide refunds. But in May 2019, Newton sent each homeowner a letter saying that he didn't intend to complete the work or return their money.

“To anyone who endured the devastation of Hurricane Michael, it is almost inconceivable that anyone could stoop so low as to prey on the storm’s victims in such a craven way,” U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe said in a statement. “These men took advantage of trusting people in their time of greatest need, and I am pleased that our office has brought these thieves to justice.”

Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018. It was the first Category 5 storm to strike the contiguous United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.