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Home-repair swindler given 4th prison term

Vowing to conquer his lifelong drug addition and alcoholism during his fourth trip to prison, Joseph M. Ralston was sentenced Tuesday to six to 12 years for home-repair scams that victimized the elderly.

State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns also ordered Ralston, 44, of Brookfield Lane, Cheektowaga, to repay the $72,255 he still owes his 12 latest victims and pay an additional $375 in court fees.

Ralston has been jailed since an Erie County grand jury in March indicted him on charges of grand larceny, scheme to defraud and criminal mischief, as well as violations of Buffalo City Code provisions by working without a license and failing to get home-repair permits. He promised he will clean up his act this time behind bars.

"I have remorse, and I will really put in an effort to help myself," Ralston told the judge before he was taken back to jail in handcuffs.

Financial crimes prosecutor Candace K. Vogel said the "fast-talking" Ralston pleaded guilty July 28 to four grand larceny counts and a felony count of scheme to defraud linked to repair rip-offs of victims from age 60 to 95. The crimes occurred from September 2007 to late this February.

Vogel said that if the scam artist had fought his latest indictment at trial, he faced a potential life term as an incorrigible criminal.

Defense attorney Robert V. Convissar said that Ralston's criminal problems stemmed from his "lifelong battle" with drug addiction and alcoholism and that he hopes prison drug programs will finally "allow him to return to honest employment and pay back" his latest victims.

According to court records, the Buffalo native served a total of almost five years in prison for three prior home-repair fraud convictions in Erie and Monroe counties dating from 1990.

Vogel said Ralston's latest schemes involved going to his elderly victims' homes and telling them that he had noticed severe structural damage that needed to get fixed immediately because of what he described as his concerns for their health and safety.

Ralston never completed any of the work the victims contracted for, and he would periodically harangue some of them for additional funds he claimed he needed to finish the projects

All of Ralston's victims ultimately had their homes fixed by legitimate contractors after Ralston had left them in a state of disrepair, Vogel said. The contractors told the victims that virtually all the work for which Ralston demanded money had been unnecessary.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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