Maine has filed a lawsuit in bankruptcy court to stop a Durham contractor from chucking all his debt, saying he owes 11 area homeowners an estimated $350,000 first.

Mikel Tuttle, 38, built homes under the names MT Construction and DMI Industries.

“The bankruptcy court favors a poor but honest debtor. (This case) is more like fraud,” Assistant Attorney General Linda Conti said Monday. “He victimized a whole group of people.”

Tuttle came to the AG’s attention last spring when several people testified in support of a bill to license and regulate contractors.

His name came up over and over – and not in glowing terms. The office met with the spurned homeowners that day and started an investigation.

“His pattern was to take a lot of money up front. People would be invested,” Conti said. Next, Tuttle would tell homeowners that money wasn’t enough; he’d need more to pay subcontractors or buy materials. “People wound up in this trap: if they didn’t give him more money, they’d lose the money they already gave him.”

Reached in the late afternoon, Tuttle referred questions to his attorney for a pending criminal case, Alan Lobozzo. Lobozzo also declined comment.

The civil lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland last week, argued that Tuttle doesn’t deserve a clean slate because of “unfair and deceptive trade practices.”

He’d sought Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection late last year from 32 creditors for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After a ruling on that suit, expected before October, Conti said the AG’s office will file another lawsuit to recoup homeowners’ money, ask for civil penalties and seek an injunction to keep Tuttle from doing business in Maine again.

“He talks a very good line,” said Sharon Deppe of Lewiston, one of the 11 homeowners who complained to the AG. “He has to be stopped. We basically all know we’re not to get money from him. My opinion: Throw him in jail.”

She and her husband hired Tuttle in 2003 to build their log cabin after a recommendation from a log cabin dealer. He put up their foundation. Deppe alleges they ultimately paid him $40,000 and got $8,000 work – and had to pay someone else to fix the foundation.

She’s frustrated the situation has lingered so long. “If I go into a store and pick up a candy bar and just walk out, they’d be on top of me,” Deppe said.

Most of the 11 cases took place in 2005, according to Conti. Several are in the area, but the lawsuit does not list specific towns.

She said information may come out of that civil process to warrant criminal charges.

Last November, Tuttle was indicted on one criminal charge of Class B theft by deception in Androscoggin County Superior Court. While the court file is thin, it involved “theft by obtaining or exercising control” on more than $10,000 from a Lewiston man who last year told the Sun Journal he had hired Tuttle to assemble his log home.

A trial is expected sometime this year. Lobozzo is representing him in that case.

Tuttle has also been involved in a number of civil cases at Lewiston District Court.

In her case, one Brunswick homeowner included an October 2003 e-mail exchange with Tuttle as part of the court record. She’d complained about poor work on her deck and flooring.

Tuttle allegedly replied: “Patience is the first thing a soldier must endure. I am a army of one taking on many battles at a time. Please don’t wage war against me. When I get a break from the front I will most gladly attend to you and every other unhappy and hard to please person(s.)…”

She won the case and is listed as a creditor in his bankruptcy claim.