Santa Barbara prosecutors spent nearly four days making their fraud and embezzlement case against former A-list construction contractor Mark Melchiori and will spend another four doing the same the first week of August. Typically, preliminary hearings are relatively brief affairs with few witnesses called to testify other than criminal investigators stating what they’ve been told. In this case, prosecutors have been putting on the stand the actual witnesses who did the telling, making it a far more detailed and lengthy kind of hearing.
Melchiori is accused of ripping off Hollywood filmmaker and Montecito resident Robert Zemeckis to the tune of nearly $400,000. In addition, he’s accused of skirting prevailing wage laws and underpaying workers and subcontractors. The total amount he’s charged with “taking” is just over $1 million. If found guilty on all counts, Melchiori could face a maximum sentence, said prosecutor Casey Nelson, of 47 years.
The scion of a successful construction company started by his father, Ugo, Melchiori’s name was emblazoned on many of the major construction projects throughout the South Coast between 2006 and 2012: UCSB, the courthouse, Transition House, and the county’s Office of Emergency Management. Beginning in 2011, Melchiori and his company became the subject of numerous lawsuits, and last year, the District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges.
Preliminary hearings determine whether there’s enough evidence for a case to proceed to trial. Should this get that far, such a trial threatens to be long, grinding, and complicated.