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Originally published Wednesday, August 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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South Seattle builder charged with bilking investors

The owner of a South Seattle construction company on Tuesday was charged with 19 counts of theft and securities fraud in an alleged scheme to deceive entrepreneurs out of their investments.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The owner of a South Seattle construction company on Tuesday was charged with 19 counts of theft and securities fraud in an alleged scheme to deceive entrepreneurs out of their investments.

Laurence Anthone, owner of MA Quick Construction, is charged in King County Superior Court with defrauding investors out of more than $600,000. According to court documents, Anthone led investors in 2003 and 2005 to believe he owned or was purchasing several parcels of property in Seattle's Central District, Skyway and Renton and would be building town homes and commercial developments there.

Prosecutors say Anthone has been investigated by the Securities Division of the state's Department of Financial Institution for about four years.

Anthone, 45, accepted investments ranging from $10,000 to $327,000 from at least six investors after talking those business owners or partnerships into locating their commercial enterprises inside his new developments, according to prosecutors.

When necessary permits weren't secured and demolition or construction didn't begin, Anthone refused to return the money, the charges allege.

Sometimes claiming to be an architect and contractor, Anthone persuaded investors to give him funds that would cover so-called "earnest money," down payments, or the purchase of property outright. The alleged businesses included a sandwich shop, a women's fitness center, residential town homes and a card-and-book store.

One woman, recently laid off after a career at Boeing, decided to locate a workout franchise she had purchased inside a development Anthone told her was "nearly sold out" and would be built by September 2003. She pulled $20,000 from her 401(k) and gave the money to Anthone, according to charges. The Renton Avenue South property was never developed.

Another partnership, which included Ezell's Famous Chicken owner Ezell Stephens, entered into a residential purchase-and-sale agreement with Anthone to develop four town homes in the 500 block of 23rd Avenue in Seattle. However, Anthone failed to make loan payments and construction never began, according to investigators.

Several of the victims have sued in civil court and Anthone has been ordered to pay $600,000, but none of that money has been collected, according to the criminal complaint.

Anthone was charged in King County District Court in 2004 with attempted theft and unregistered contracting in connection with one of the deals. He was a fugitive until July 2005, when he was arrested. Just before trial in 2006, he paid the victim back $10,000 and pleaded guilty to a minor contracting charge.

It took several years for investigators to connect all the cases, Prosecutor's Office spokesman Dan Donohoe said.

Prosecutors will seek a sentencing enhancement for a major economic crime, meaning he could receive a sentence longer than the standard range of 4-¼ to 5-½ years in prison if he is convicted as charged.

He is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 18.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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