The Utah County Attorney's office filed 18 felony theft charges against an Orem construction firm Wednesday in the 4th Circuit Court.

T & H Westamerica Homes, owned by Thomas R. Jenkins and Harold C. Toombs, is charged with theft under the construction trades licensing act, a second-degree felony. Westamerica allegedly received construction funds for 18 homes but failed to pay suppliers and subcontractors within 120 days as required by the act.The unpaid suppliers and subcontractors filed an estimated $180,000 in liens on the homes located in Heatheridge, a north Orem subdivision, and Summer Ridge, a Lindon subdivision.

This is the first criminal case filed under the act's theft provision, adopted by the Legislature in 1989. But state licensing regulators are confident it will pass judicial muster.

"We've worked hard on this case for about one year and we think it's a good test case," said Bill Essex, investigations supervisor with the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

Some people who bought homes in the subdivisions discovered liens had been filed on their homes at closing. Others moved into homes and then received notices of lien filings several months later.

One resident of Heatheridge, who asked that she not be identified, said she received a lien notice for $2,700 worth of unpaid windows more than two months after she and her husband moved into their home last July.

Westamerica resolved that lien recently by giving the glass company a pickup truck and the trust deed to a building lot.

Many of the homeowners contacted Kim Fearneyhough, director and founder of Home Aid for help in fighting the liens. Home Aid, located in Provo, is a community organization that lends assistance to consumers before and after they buy homes.

"Liens were placed on everything from windows to carpet to plumbing," Fearneyhough said. "The liens were worth an average of $10,000 on each of the 18 homes."

Fearneyhough reported the homeowners' complaints to state licensing officials last October. The division then launched an investigation.

Westamerica is no longer in business, but according to Wayne Holman, an investigator with the licensing division, Toombs has opened another company, Brookwood Development.