Construction company owner charged with defrauding Libby firm enters plea

Apr. 19—The owner of a Butte construction company facing multiple felony charges for allegedly defrauding a local business during the construction of the new Town Pump in Troy pleaded not guilty to the offenses.

Joseph Anthony Tobiness, 52, is accused of four counts of forgery exceeding $5,000. He appeared for the arraignment on Monday, April 15. His attorney, Michael T. Trosper, appeared via Zoom video.

Tobiness' next court hearing is set for May 20.

Lincoln County authorities allege Tobiness failed to pay a local contractor more than $200,000 in invoices for work it had done through the end of October 2023.

The county's investigation began Dec, 7, 2023, when the owner of a Libby-based contracting company called the sheriff's office to report forged documents. The owner told Det. Anthony Jenson his company was working for the general contractor, Joseph Tobiness (Tobiness Construction Company, Inc.) who is working on the Town Pump construction project in Troy.

The owner said Tobiness owed him a significant amount of money for work they have done. The owner said he received lien waivers which should have been signed by himself or his chief financial officer. Neither had actually signed the lien waivers and the owner said it appeared that five of the seven lien releases had been forged.

The owner went on to explain to Det. Jenson that as they do work, they send an invoice. Normally, a business would pay the invoice and a lien waiver would be sent saying that invoice has been paid. Instead, according to the owner, Tobiness has just been sending them random amounts of money without detailing what has been paid.

The owner alleged that Tobiness was making up a signature for the contracting business on the lien waiver and sending them in. The owner estimated Tobiness still owes them about $150,000 to $200,000. The owner said he is working with his attorney to get a lien against the property for the money they are owed.

Then, on Dec. 10, the owner sent an email conversation about the issue to Det. Jenson.

According to Jenson's narrative, the conversation began on Nov. 28 with the owner sending Tobiness an email asking why a payment received didn't match two previous pay requests. Tobiness allegedly said he was withholding the money pending a proposal for a propane tank project.

The owner responded that he wanted the information before he would complete the proposal. The owner included Dan Sampson, the director of Town Pump Construction and Development Department. Sampson said he responded to the conversation between them and advised the owner he will send the latest pay application.

Sampson forwarded a total of six lien waivers to the owner, some of which were reportedly signed by the contractor's CFO. The owner said that signatures on four of six lien waivers were not signed by either himself or the CFO.

According to his narrative, Det. Jenson got ahold of Tobiness on Dec. 13 and the defendant allegedly admitted he had signed one or two lien waivers. Tobiness said he couldn't specifically remember which other lien waivers he signed, but he was certain the last one he signed was dated Oct. 18, 2023, with a payment of $121.985.70.

Tobiness told Det. Jenson checks from Town Pump required two signatures. He said he wasn't receiving the lien waiver from the local construction company so he signed a name on the lien waiver and submitted it. According to Det. Jenson, Tobiness said he did this so the next pay application with Town Pump could move forward. He allegedly blamed the local construction company for holding up the process. Tobiness allegedly admitted he knew signing the waiver was wrong and that he had worked out the issue with the local construction company.

On Dec. 15, Det. Jenson spoke with Town Pump's Sampson. Sampson said he had heard about disputes between the two businesses, but generally, Town Pump stays out of the disputes. He ultimately advised Town Pump ends up paying the subcontractor the amount they are owed, meaning they pay for the work twice.

When Det. Jenson asked how the contracts work, Sampson explained that when the work is done, a check is issued to the contractor. Because they are two party checks, both the contractor and subcontractor must sign them. This process began in May 2022.

Jenson said he spoke to the local contractor and told him Tobiness said the issues were worked out, but the contractor said they hadn't been.

Town Pump officials say they still plan to have the new Troy Town Pump open before Memorial Day.