By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (January 25, 2017) – After a day and a half of testimony, the jury is back with a guilty verdict in the case against Argel Cital. The 30-year-old former construction company owner is charged with theft of $10,000 from a now 71-year-old Dublin woman, Enith Murray, in 2015.
The jury deliberated for more than three hours and returned just before 8 p.m. with a guilty verdict. They will return to the Jones Justice Center at 9 a.m. Thursday morning to begin the sentencing phase of the trial.
The third-degree felony offense carries a potential punishment of two to 10 years in prison.
During the first day of proceedings, the jury was introduced to Murray. She testified she had paid $10,000 to Aztec Construction Group, which was owned and operated by Cital, on June 12, 2015. Murray also said less than a month later, on July 3, she filed a report with Dublin police when the repairs to her roof and other parts of the home had not been completed.
Other witnesses called by the state Tuesday offered insight what Assistant District Attorney Jett Smith called a pattern of deception. The jury heard testimony from former Aztec employees who detailed the downward spiral of the company, beginning with complaints from Murray and other customers in Dublin.
Two Dublin homeowners who said they were duped by Cital testified on Wednesday.
Donald Sani told the jury about a deal made with Cital to complete repairs to the interior and exterior of his storm-damaged home. Sani said he had already collected a $21,000 check from his insurance provider, which required his signature and also had to be signed by a representative of the bank that held the mortgage on his home.
Cital reportedly told the homeowner he could cash it without the required signature. The check was cashed, but Sani said Cital never returned to make good on the cash advance.
Sani said he was only able to recoup the losses because of a stop payment issued by his insurance provider while the funds were still in limbo at a Dallas-area check cashing business.
Meanwhile, Robert Bradley, a retired truck and school bus driver, who has lived on Hawk Street for almost 40 years, said just about everything he owned was damaged in the spring 2015 storm that pelted Dublin and other parts of the region.
Bradley said he made arrangements with Cital to replace the roof – decking and shingles – of his home and repair damage to the carport, patio cover, shop roof and a RV awning. Bradley said he wrote Cital a $4,200 check at the beginning of the project, and the replacement of the roof of his residence was completed.
When it was time for the other repairs to be made, Bradley said he wrote Aztec a check for an additional $10,000. The repairs were never made, and the homeowner said he was not reimbursed even though Cital cashed the check.
Attorney Rosalind Kelly opened her defense by calling her client to the stand.
Cital said he started his roofing business in 2012 and slowly gained the respect of happy customers. He also said the decision to grow the operation through a partnership with Joe Thacker, a salesman who joined the Aztec Construction Group staff in 2015, led to the business’ demise and Cital’s arrest in May of last year.
Thacker and Cital met in 2013 when Aztec owner considered a career change. Thacker was the vice president of Full Results Marketing, and Cital said rather than work in sales, he ultimately decided to give the roofing business another shot.
The men connected again in 2015 when Thacker was having issues getting an acceptable roof replacement payout from his homeowner’s insurance and turned to the defendant for assistance.
Aztec had grown over the two-year period. Cital said he stayed busy replacing residential and commercial roofs across the Dallas/Worth area, and the business was profitable. Cital said Aztec operated with very little overhead. As the business owner, Cital said he wore several hats – those of the lead salesman, customer service representative and laborer.
Cital said his business, which had been known as Aztec Restoration, Aztec Construction Group and Aztec Environmental Restoration, relied on customer referrals rather than websites and social media. He also said it had grown from a startup with $50 in capital and a logo into a reputable company that had allowed him to nest away $180,000 cash.
But, Cital testified that after about eight months of working with Thacker, he had nothing left but a soiled reputation.
“My reputation was everything to me,” a tearful Cital said. “Now, look me up online and I am thief and a crook, and I haven’t even been convicted of anything.”
Cital said before the downfall of Aztec, he saw Thacker as a respectable and successful businessman who could sell anything. Thacker promised business growth and asked to be compensated 50 percent of Aztec profits in exchange for his services.
In the beginning, the business relationship led to the replacement of roofs around the communities of Rowlett and Rockwall, where Thacker put Cital to work on the homes of friends, neighbors, fellow church members and community leaders.
The defendant said one-by-one, Thacker eventually convinced him to increase the sales staff to about a dozen employees. He also said Thacker convinced him to implement a new pay plan, compensating the salespeople with regular weekly draws until commission could be paid following the completion of jobs.
Thacker said Tuesday he received a draw of between $3,000 and $4,000 per week, and when his wife, Robin, joined the team, she received $1,000 weekly.
Both Joe and Robin Thacker testified on behalf of the state, saying their relationship with Cital ended in the fall of 2015 following complaints from contractors who weren’t being paid and calls from unhappy customers in Dublin.
The former husband and wife also testified that after ending their working relationship with Cital they started their own roofing business.
Robin said she subsequently divorced from Joe and recently started her own roofing business.
When Kelly asked her client what he thought happened to his business, Cital blamed Joe Thacker and the staff of about 12 salespeople he had hired.
“An implosion,” he said. “It got ran into the ground. Too many salesman, I should have never trusted anyone… The salesman said anything they could get away with saying to get a job so they could collect the commission or draw.”
Cital said Robin Thacker set unrealistic expectations when she presented a repair schedule to Murray. He said the company had a backlog of jobs in the Dublin area, the victim had requested a special shingles that were on backorder, spurts of inclement weather delayed projects and suppliers were unable to provide materials in timely manner.
During closing arguments, Smith told the jury to consider the fact that while Cital was driving a Maserati, Murray was out $10,000 and having her home’s roof replaced by members of her church.
He also told the jury the cash advance from Murray was enough to purchase the roofing materials and fund the labor for the project that was never completed. Smith said months elapsed between the filing of the police report in July 2015 until Cital’s May 2016 arrest, but he never attempted to compensate the victim.
Finally, Smith said one failed business deal could be considered bad business rather than a crime, but several similar complaints from a number of complainants in the small town of Dublin showed a pattern of deception.