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Stewart to plead not guilty to theft from customers

Asks for court-appointed lawyer
By Stephen Betts | Apr 07, 2021
Malcolm and Elizabeth Stewart

Rockland — The former owner of the defunct Castle Builders contractor company in Union will plead not guilty to charges that he stole nearly $500,000 from customers, and is asking for bail to be changed to allow him to be released so he can receive life-saving dialysis treatments.

A motion on behalf of 56-year-old Malcolm Stewart was filed in the Knox County court by attorney Kevin Sullivan of Gardiner.

The motion states Stewart wants a hearing to arrange for a date to turn himself in to the court on the arrest warrant it issued March 25, when he was indicted by a Knox County grand jury for two counts of theft by deception.

Stewart now resides in Pelzer, South Carolina.

The attorney states Stewart wants to arrange a date for him to report to the court and then argue for a change in bail. The bail on the arrest warrant was set at $50,000 cash.

Stewart does not have enough money to meet the cash bail. The attorney told the court in the motion that Stewart is applying for Social Security benefits. Because of his lack of money, Stewart will ask the court to appoint him an attorney who would be paid by the state.

Stewart owns a home in Maine that may have some equity, according to attorney Sullivan, but that can only be used if the court changes the bail to a surety rather than cash.

The attorney acknowledged Stewart may spend some time in jail before he is released on bail, and that is why they want to schedule when he should surrender to the court. This would allow him time to arrange for dialysis treatments when he is at the jail, awaiting a decision on bail.

Stewart suffers from end stage renal failure and will die if he does not get dialysis and medications on time, the attorney stated. He is awaiting a kidney donation.

One of the theft counts filed against him contends Stewart "intentionally created the impression that he had the capacity to complete construction, renovation and repair work" when, in fact, he knew that impression was false.

Fifty-six victims of this alleged scheme were listed in the indictment with the amount of thefts totaling $437,906.

The offenses are alleged to have occurred from April 2018 until September 2019 in Knox, Hancock, Kennebec, Lincoln and Somerset counties.

The other theft count alleges Stewart committed theft by deception by telling a couple he could not complete work on their project without a loan. He claimed customers were not paying him and he had a cash flow problem, but would be able to repay the loan. The indictment states Stewart knew he would not be able to repay the loan.

The indictment states the loan was for more than $10,000 in December 2019, but the AG's office said in a news release that the loan was for $50,000.

These are the first criminal charges to come out of the abrupt closure of Castle Builders in September 2019.

The Maine Attorney General's Office already filed a civil lawsuit against Stewart and his wife Elizabeth Stewart and Castle Builders, accusing them of bilking more than 100 people out of more than $1 million.

In October 2020, the court appointed attorney Walter McKee of Augusta to serve as a neutral third party to mediate the civil lawsuit.

Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Silsby requested the appointment of a neutral third party, saying in court filings that the AG's Office and Stewarts were unable to reach an agreement on a mediator or on the process to conduct alternative dispute resolution. Alternate dispute resolution is required in civil cases.

In July 2020, the Stewarts filed paperwork with the court, claiming they were unable to pay their share of a mediator.

"We are without funds to pay half a mediator that costs $200 to $300 per hour." they stated in their court filing.

The Attorney General is suing the couple under the state's Unfair Trade Practices Law, claiming the Stewarts violated that law on multiple counts.

The AG began the investigation after numerous complaints were filed by customers, some before the couple closed their contracting business in September 2019.

In addition to the state's civil lawsuit, the case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court continues.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Maine by the Stewarts indicate they have claims against them totaling $1,215,877. This includes $165,234 in taxes owed to the government.

There are 177 creditors listed in their bankruptcy filing with most of them former customers of Castle Builders. Former workers, suppliers and the government are also listed as creditors.

A January filing in the bankruptcy case by the Maine AG's Office waives its claim to any of the money the court-appointed trustee recovered for creditors. The trustee recovered less than $50,000 as of January this year.

The Stewarts operated Castle Builders for nearly three years before abruptly closing it and their Agway store in Union in September 2019.

The couple then moved to South Carolina to live with relatives.

The civil lawsuit alleges the Stewarts hired people to cold call homeowners in an effort to solicit business for Castle Builders. The Stewarts would then request down payments for work before beginning and often times would seek a second advance payment before any work was done.

Much of their work was faulty, according to the state, resulting in damages to homes. A lot of that damage came from not ensuring the properties were protected from rain and snow during repair work.

In addition, electrical work was done by unlicensed workers and did not meet minimum standards.

The AG claims the Stewarts violated the unfair practice law by soliciting and accepting more than one-third down payments at the start. They also failed to give an expected start and completion time for the work as is required by the law.

The Stewarts have denied the claims in the civil lawsuit.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: ANITA BROWN | Apr 10, 2021 18:47

You always picture Malcolm Stewart “smiling all the way to the bank”. How about a photo of him in an orange jumpsuit?

Posted by: STEVEN VITTUM | Apr 08, 2021 17:07

OK- they swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars from their victims.  Then, when the court wants to have mediation, they claim they can’t come up with the hourly rate for mediation.  Now, we have an end stage disease and medical and legal fees cannot be paid.  My question: where did the swindled money go?  Squandered on a lavish lifestyle?  Gambled away?  Perhaps buried away in some offshore account??  I say to the prosecution- follow the money.  We need accountability for where all the money went from these miserable human beings.  People who gave them money wanted honest work for their investment.  Instead, they got people who ripped them off, lied, cheated, and ultimately fled the state to avoid their obligations.  They still need to face the consequences of their actions.  Absolutely zero sympathy here!!

Posted by: GAIL HAWES | Apr 08, 2021 11:59

The worst part of all this is that all the homeowners, businesses and workers, etc, will likely never see much in the way of restitution. Many people had their lives turned upside, and are still struggling to put things back together. There's not a lot of sympathy here for his current situation. It sounds more like a tool to use in asking for leniency. Time to pay the piper.

Posted by: Martha Johnston-Nash | Apr 08, 2021 07:05

I would ask the court to verify the story about his illnesses. The guy is a pathological liar, at best.

Posted by: Susan Harriman | Apr 07, 2021 15:35

He can take trips back and forth for his treatments while in jail or prison.

Posted by: Keryn Laite | Apr 07, 2021 13:36

This is extremely disappointing. Now the taxpayers most likely will have to pay for his legal representation as well as being treated by doctors for his health issues......

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