Police said the call-forwarding scheme worked this way:
Lasch called Bell Atlantic and ordered a service known as "ultra call forwarding" for the phones listed in the names of the other plumbers' companies. The service was set up in such a way that it could be activated
from any push-button phone.
When prospective customers called those other plumbers, police said, Lasch surreptitiously intercepted the calls.
Ironically, the alleged scheme came to light when a customer tried to compliment the plumber she thought had worked on her home.
Nancy Morith of Lower Makefield called Lucas Ltd., of Newtown, on Dec. 27 to tell owner John Lucas of the good work two of his men had done installing a water heater at her home over the Christmas weekend.
Lucas told the woman that his company had not worked over the Christmas weekend. "It wasn't my men who did the job," he said.
Both Lucas and Morith were puzzled.
Morith told Lucas she had called at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day for emergency service. Leaving a message on an answering machine, Morith said, she was soon contacted by a man who identified himself as Gary, who came out the next day with another man to install a new water heater.
Later in the day, when it leaked, they returned to replace it.
Lucas said the woman told him she had paid by writing a check to a ''William West." At Lucas' urging, Morith notified Lower Makefield police.
Lucas estimated that he "probably lost thousands of dollars" to Lasch's scheme from Dec. 13 through Jan. 3. "He took only the better customers, refused some of my regulars who are calling me now and saying, 'Forget it, we won't use you again.' "
Police said yesterday that they were still gathering evidence in their growing case.
The total number of calls allegedly diverted by Lasch was not revealed.
Sharon Shaffer, a Bell Atlantic spokeswoman, said the phone company had taken precautions to try to prevent such fraud in the future.
Besides Lucas, police identified the other victimized plumbers known so far as Master Plumbing Inc. of Bensalem; McIntyre Plumbing Inc. of Levittown; Carr Plumbing of Morrisville; and Keystone Sewer and Drain Cleaning of Bristol. Lasch had previously worked with Lucas and McIntyre.
Lasch was arraigned Wednesday before District Justice Joanne V. Kline in Bristol Township, who set bail at $50,000 and ordered Lasch returned to Bucks County Prison.
Lasch has been in prison since Jan. 9, when he was arrested on charges of aggravated and simple assault, terroristic threats, and recklessly endangering another person. Kline, who arraigned him on those charges, set bail at $50,000 then and sent him to prison after he was unable to post 10 percent.
The earlier charges involve the alleged beating of a plumber's helper, Gary Vandenberg, on Jan. 7, causing Vandenberg's hospitalization.
Court records show that Lasch, who operated Michael Lasch Plumbing until 1992, has judgments amounting to nearly $200,000 against him and his failed business. And besides the civil court actions, court records show Lasch has had repeated run-ins with the law, having been convicted on charges ranging
from passing bad checks to aggravated assault dating back to 1987.
State Trooper Anthony W. Rhodunda of the Trevose Barracks said the investigation into the scheme was continuing, with the possibility of further arrests. He asked that anyone who feels they may have been victimized to telephone state police at 757-6921.