STURGIS - The former owner of a Black Hawk housing factory who admitted to owing nearly $600,000 to clients received two consecutive 10-year prison sentences Friday in 4th Circuit Court in Sturgis.
Joseph Grandi, who owned Global PlaceMakers until it closed in 2003, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft as part of a plea agreement.
Fourth Circuit Judge Jerome Eckrich sentenced Grandi to 10 years on each count, suspended five years of each of the sentences and ordered Grandi to pay nearly $600,000 in restitution to the victims.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, the state dropped six other charges and habitual- offender status against Grandi.
Eckrich said Grandi must serve 40 percent of the sentence before he is eligible for parole. According to that calculation, Grandi will serve at least two years of each sentence.
Grandi moved Global PlaceMakers to the Black Hills from New Jersey in 2001. The company built low-cost, custom-built houses using steel frame construction inside its cavernous factory.
Grandi said after an employee embezzled $40,000 from the company, he was forced to use money from buyers to meet operating expenses. Without revenue coming in, Grandi said, he fell behind and couldn't build the houses that had been ordered.
As a number of victims sat in the courtroom on Friday, Grandi told the court he tried to keep the business going but failed. "I was looking out more for the company than the customers," he said.
Grandi also said that a doctor recently told him that he has only three to four years to live as the result of severe diabetes and congestive heart failure.
"I don't want to die in jail," he said.
South Dakota assistant attorney general Todd Love told the court that the case was clearly one where the defendant deserved to spend time in prison. He said Grandi has numerous prior convictions, including one in New Jersey from the early 1990s that was nearly identical to the current case. Love showed a newspaper clipping from the New Jersey case that outlined the charges.
"Change the names and change the dates," Love said. "We've got exactly the same thing."
Love also said that the impact to the victims in the case goes far beyond the $600,000 owed to them. He said some of the families suffered credit rating problems as a result of the incident. Also, Love said, others had to pay back creditors for the money they borrowed to buy the houses that they never received.
"The bottom line is that before you today is a life-long criminal who has displayed the same behavior over and over again," Love said.
Grandi's defense attorney, Michael Jackley, told the court that although his client did cause the victims to lose money, Grandi also is a victim. Jackley said the defendant tried to deal through the hard times, but that in the end, the business fell apart.
"He (Grandi) lost his dreams, too," Jackley said. "His partner died, and he financially failed. He knows and accepts that fact and he knows a lot of people suffered..."
Eckrich told Grandi that the scheme was more than a business deal gone badly. He said the crimes were committed with a criminal state of mind.
"You stole, and you knew it when you stole," he said. "You stole more than money; you stole people's lives."