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Retired teacher chides ex-pupil who conned him

| Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, 6:32 p.m.

A retired teacher from Uniontown lambasted a man he taught in elementary school, moments before the former student was sentenced for home improvement fraud on Monday.

William Furnier, 37, of Uniontown pleaded guilty in July to charges of theft, false statements and receiving advance payment for services he failed to perform in two criminal cases.

Victims from both families were in the courtroom when Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon sentenced Furnier to serve two years' probation and to pay back more than $8,000 he took for home repairs that were never made.

Robert Rafail told the judge that Furnier was his student at the former Parks Elementary School in Uniontown.

Rafail hired Furnier, who operated a heating and air conditioning business, to do work at the home of his 90-year-old father, Elias Rafail.

According to an affidavit filed by Uniontown police, Rafail contacted the department in July 2012 because he had paid Furnier half an agreed-upon price up front for the work, but a starting date was repeatedly pushed back. Police found that Furnier's cellphone was no longer in service.

He was arrested when a warrant was issued one year ago.

On Monday, Rafail thanked Lori Stephenson of Uniontown, another former student who said she is Furnier's cousin. She said she filed a civil lawsuit against Furnier because he failed to complete a $2,000 heating job at her home.

“Because of her, I had the courage to participate in this criminal case against William, in spite of the embarrassment that this has caused me, in order to help prevent others from being pulled into his scheming and unlawful plan,” Rafail said.

Rafail said when he ran into Furnier in 2012 and learned of his business, he asked him to give him an estimate on work at his home.

“I placed my trust in you, just as I put my trust in you to serve as a student patrol when you were in my classroom,” Rafail said, reading from a prepared victim impact statement.

“If you recall, at the beginning of the school year, I stood before my students and explained the classroom rules and expectations of the year that was about to begin. Each year, I began by telling my students that they could remember the rules simply by thinking of the initials of my first and last names since both begin with the letter ‘R.' ... Those words were respect and responsibility,” he said.

“I believe that you followed those rules to a ‘T' and expected that you would carry them with you throughout your life. Unfortunately, after my experience with you as a contractor, I can't say that is true,” he said to Furnier.

“Somewhere along the way, you (strayed) from the values and behaviors that I thought you had. ... Your actions will be judged by everyone with whom you come into contact — the community, your friends, your family and your God — and me for the rest of your life,” Rafail said.

“I would like to say that I have forgiven you, but I haven't gotten that far yet. The $4,100 that you stole from me won't allow me to forget. I still can't understand why my 90-year-old father, who is now confined to a wheelchair after having suffered a stroke, has to endure the extremes of heat and cold in our house that could have been remedied if you had installed the heat pump, as promised ...,” Rafail said.

Rafail said he was more interested in restitution than a prison term for Furnier.

The probation term and restitution included the case of Joann Reckner of Lemont Furnace, who said she hired Furnier in January 2012 to install a furnace and air conditioning at her home.

She approached state police because a furnace was partially installed and work stopped, she said, after she had paid Furnier $4,500 in advance.

“We lost our life savings,” Reckner said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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